An ideofact is an artifact imbued with meanings other than its technical function.
Friday, July 12, 2002
I've noticed that bloggers sometimes link stories from Middle Eastern and Gulf news sources as hopeful signs of self-criticism on the part of Arab commentators. I've done it myself on occasion. The stories are few and far between -- particularly on the Arab News site, which seems to be (deservedly so) a favorite target.
Tonight, it occurred to me that the Arab News folks are similarly looking for hopeful signs that we in the West will abandon our devotion to silly notions like religious tolerance, popular sovereignty, civil rights and the like. One of those hopeful signs, no doubt, will be the emergence of openly anti-Semitic politicians. How else to explain this story:
Rankin County, MS – Jim Giles, who is running for a congressional seat in the 3rd District of Mississippi advocates cutting the $10 million a day that the US gives to Israel to slaughter Palestinians.I looked up Giles' campaign site, which is festooned with a Confederate flag and, in case you missed the point, has the address "rebelarmy.com." Here's what he had to say about Independence Day:
This is the day when ignorant Mississippi celebrates the independence it once had but lost 139 years ago. The twin disasters of Vicksburg and Gettysburg on July 4, 1863 marked the end of any hope that Mississippi would ever be able to write its own laws and determine its own course again. Defeatism spreads. To paraphrase the poet Byron, it rots the souls of those that I survey.Charming. Who can say what is to come? Secession by Mississippi? Here's another release:
A YANKEE JEW REPORTER AND NEWSPAPERIncidentally, the line about "cutting the $10 million a day that the US gives to Israel to slaughter Palestinians" comes not from the fine editors at Arab News, but from Giles himself.
I suppose it's ironic -- although given the subject, it just makes me sick to my stomach -- but the same edition of Arab News carries a story condemning racism. The site's editor-in-chief wrote a piece to atone for this hateful screed, which says Africans living in Mecca "breed like rabbits" and are "harmful weeds" that must be cleared. Addressing the author, the editor writes:
Thank you, Mr. Khaled Al-Sulaiman for giving us a piece of your flowery prose. I read your articles from time to time and am always amazed at your language as well as your choice of words. But this time, I feel, most strongly, you have gone too far. You have revealed your dreadful racist tendencies by focusing on one ethnic group.Apparently, if Mr. Al-Sulaiman had focused on two ethnic groups -- blacks and Jews -- the Arab News would consider him a viable candidate for Congress.
Thursday, July 11, 2002
In the roughly 11 pages he devotes to the subject of the equality of all men, Qutb devotes one and a half pages to differences of class (which mostly focuses on the idea of "royal blood"), two and a half to race, and one page to equality in general. The rest of the section is about women.
...Islam has guaranteed to women a complete equality with men with regard to their sex; it has permitted no discrimination except in some incidental matters connected with physical capacity, with customary procedure, or with responsibility, in all of which the human status of the two sexes is not in question. Wherever the physical endowments, the customs, and the responsibilities are identical, the sexes are equal; and wherever there is some difference in these respects, the discrimination follows that difference.So there's complete equality, except for those sorts of discrimination that are not in question. To be honest, nothing I could say about Qutb that better expresses his disdain for equality between the sexes than his own words. He says, for example, that the sexes are equal when it comes to money -- "possessing and administering" it, in his own formulation, but then says,
In the case of the law about a man getting double the share of a woman in an inheritance, the reason is to be found in the responsibility which a man carries in life. He marries a woman and he undertakes to maintain her and their children; he has to bear the responsibility for the whole structure of the family. So it is no more than his right that for this reason, if for no other, he should have the share of two women.Two = one. Then we have this:
Because a man is free from the cares of maternity, he can attend to the affairs of society over considerable periods and can apply to these affairs all his intellectual powers. On the other hand, a woman is preoccupied for most of her life with the cares of family. The result is that these responsibilities promote in women a growth in the direction of the emotions and the sentiments, while in men growth is promoted in the direction of reflection and thought. So when man is made to oversee woman, it is by reason of physical nature and custom that this ordinance stands.Uh huh. Oversight. Then there's this proof of the equality of the sexes -- Qutb's justification of the need for two women to testify as opposed to one man:
....by the nature of her family duties the growth of the woman's spirit is towards emotions and sentiments, just as in man it is towards contemplation and thought, as we have already said. So when she is forgetful or when she is carried away by her feelings, the other will be there to remind her.Ah, you see, women are completely equal, it's just that their inherent inferiority forces us to make allowances for them. This is different from the West:
It is well to remember that the West brought women out of the home to work only because their menfolk shrank from the responsibility of keeping them and caring for them although the price was the chastity and honor of woman. Thus and only thus were women compelled to work.Qutb isn't too fond of the Western habit of letting women work. Whether it's in the press, in sales, in government service, work for women is merely a form of prostitution:
And while today we watch the materialistic West preferring women to men in some professions, particularly in commerce, in embassies, in consulates, and in information services such as newspapers and the like, we must not forget the regrettable and unsavory significance of this advancement. It is a form of slavery and servitude in an atmosphere of the smoke of incense and opium. It is the exploitation of the sex instinct of customers by merchants; and similary the government appoints women to embassies and consulates, and newspaper editors send women to glean news and information. All of them are merely attempting to make use of women and they know what success a woman can have in these fields. They know, too, what she must give to achieve her success. And even if she gives nothing -- which is unlikely -- they know what hungry passions and eager eyes encompass her body and her words.Later, he assures us, for fourteen centuries Islam has granted women the right to work and the right to earn.
So this is how Qutb defines equality between the sexes. Much like his notion of freedom of conscience, this is again merely the co-opting of a Western term which is then defined according to Qutb's brand of Islam.
Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Continuing now jotting down my impressions of Qutb's work, Social Justice in Islam (outside of the Islamist sites, I've probably linked to the book as often as anyone else. Incidentally, the first post in the series, explaining who Qutb is and why I think it's worth going through his book, can be found here. Subsequent posts devoted solely to Social Justice in Islam are here and here. Chapter three is exceptionally long, so I've broken this up into parts, which I'll post over successive nights.
The title of the third chapter is translated as "The Foundations of Social Justice in Islam." Qutb begins by restating his notion that Islam is not merely a religion, it's a universal theory for life, regulating all of man's endeavors and social relations. Then he lists the three foundations of social justice in Islam:
1. Absolute freedom of conscience.I think most Americans would agree with 1 and 2 (Qutb later explains how 2 includes women as well as men -- I'll get there soon), and while 3 is a bit vague, I think what he means is the mutual responsibilities between society at large, which must maintain the rights of the individual, and the individual, who in turn abides by the laws and rules of society (taxes, social codes, etc.). But Qutb's definitions of these three things are, to say the least, somewhat alien to Western notions of them.
Take absolute freedom of conscience, which Qutb defines as servitude to no one but Allah. Here's a quote:
Islam began by freeing the human conscience from servitude to anyone except Allah and from submission to any save Him. There is no supreme authority anywhere except that of Allah, nor can any other grant life or death. None save He can supply provision of anything in earth or heaven, nor can there be any mediator between man and Him. ...So this is freedom of conscience, Qutb-style. Obviously, it's merely the co-opting of the name of a Western value to replace strict orthodoxy in belief. It's also odd that Qutb argues that the prophets -- presumably he means the Old Testament prophets and Jesus -- expected to be worshipped. Except for Jesus, this does not seem to be the case (Qutb goes on to cite chapter and verse from the Qur'an, in which Jesus says, "I said nothing to them save what thou didst command me: 'Serve Allah, my Lord and your Lord.'").
Qutb then argues that the lack of intermediaries between man and Allah is one of the great strengths of Islam:
...if it is held that no servant is more distinguished in his essence than any other servant in the view of Allah, then all mediation between Allah and His servants is denied; there can be no priesthood and no mediator. So every individual can make his own practical relationship with his Creator and can strengthen his own weak and frail nature with the Power which is from eternity to eternity. So he can draw from that power strength and dignity and courage, can know its mercy and care and kindness, can strengthen his faith and empower his spirit.This is quite a wonderful idea, but I can't help thinking that the reliance on Hadith to determine orthodoxy, the fatwas issued for the death of anyone who criticizes Muhammad (who did not always practice what he preached), the reliance on jurists schooled in the Hadith and Qur'an and the shari'ah to mete out punishments for both civil and religious transgressions -- that all these things, of which Qutb approves (well, except for killing any critic of the Prophet -- he doesn't say so explicitly), contradict the notion that "every individual can make his own practical relationship with his Creator."
Qutb goes on for about ten pages about things that ordinarily would limit the absolute freedom of conscience, but that are mitigated in Islam. He starts with economic insecurity (i.e. -- poverty) and low social status, and argues, in words that seem to paraphrase the Gospels (which isn't to say he's copying them -- there is much in Islam that is similar to the Gospels) that Allah provides for all his creatures. (The quote is: "And how many beasts do not carry their own provision. Allah maketh provision for them and for you.")
Next he goes after money, power, rank and lineage. He gets bent out of shape over this passage from the Qur'an:
Do not cast your eyes longingly at those things which We have given for the enjoyment of some classes of men, things which are the flower of the world. For We gave them in order to test these men; the provision of your Lord is better and more enduring.And writes,
Some authorities interpret this verse and those like it as meaning merely that the rich should be left to enjoy their riches, while the poor should be content with their poverty. But this is a false exegisis which is inconsistent with the general spirit of Islam. It is the explanation which is typical of those professional men of religion of despotic ages who use it to quiet the public conscience and to divert it from the quest for social justice. Such men must bear the responsibility themselves, for Islam cannot countenance such an exegesis. In point of fact, this verse and others similar to it refer rather to the rehabilitation of the true human values and to the necessity of rescuing the poor from their state of weakness and helplessness under the purely material values of wealth and possessions.Qutb's reading is bizarre; in context (the verse is from 20:131), the "some classes of men" seems to refer to unbelievers, and the implication is fairly clear: Don't covet the things of this earth, but rather seek your reward in Heaven. Of course, this is precisely the opposite message Qutb wants to convey about Islam. Yet the contradictions remain. Here he is on fasting:
...its purpose is to raise the soul for a space of time above the powerful needs of human nature. By fasting the will is strengthened and elevated, making man superior to his own essence because he has risen above his necessities.True, but it's still a form of self-deprivation and denial -- a retreat from the things of this world, an asceticism. Then there's this passage:
One day the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, came forth holding one of his grandsons in his arms and said: "A child may be an inducement to avarice, cowardice, and ignorance."I find all this interesting, because Qutb consistently turns to examples from the Qur'an and the Hadith that admonish the believer not to become too infatuated with the things of this world. They are adornments, yes, they are to be enjoyed, but the focus of one's life should be elsewhere. In other words, Islam's answer to the temptations of this world aren't particularly different from those Qutb argues are Christianity's answer -- self-denial and asceticism. In Qutb's view, Christianity demands a far more rigorous asceticism (although there's nothing like the fasting for Ramadan -- no eating during daylight for a whole month). I don't know -- quoting approvingly a passage in which the Prophet holds a child in his arms and saying that he can be an inducement to avarice, cowardice and ignorance doesn't strike me as being particularly lenient in the "rejection of this world" department.
Next, he moves on to a discussion of equality, in which women figure prominently. I'll post a discussion of it in roughly 24 hours.
Tuesday, July 09, 2002
Sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake (well, maybe more often than sometimes). Throughout Qutb's Social Justice in Islam, he characterizes Christianity in ways that struck me as bizarre. Here are a few samples, taken from throughout the work:
Christianity is one of the clearest examples of this theory of opposition, which it shares to some degree with both Hinduism and Buddhism. For Christianity the salvation of the soul is to be gained by humiliating the body, by punishing it, or even from indulgence. In Christianity and in other similar faiths this is the cardinal system on which are built their systems of belief... (p. 42 in my edition)There are other instances of this; it struck me as I continued to work on part 3 of the Qutb analysis tonight (sorry, still not finished), that what he's describing has more in common with Arianism or Manichaeism.
Just out of curiosity, I plugged Islam, Nicea and Arian into Google and came up with everything from the Sabr Foundation's Gospel of Barnabas site to a site called Answering Islam to a fair number of fairly interesting looking academic discussions of the subject.
Generally, among the Muslim polemicists, Christianity is attacked by raising Arianism. For Qutb, who rejects most of the intellectual tradition of Islam, Christianity is Arianism, and the various Gnostic creeds that departed from Orthodoxy during the 2d, 3d, and 4th centuries. Perhaps this explains his statement that Europe was never truly Christian.
One other observation. I'd quoted before a passage from Dominique Sourdel's fine book, Medieval Islam, which regrettably is out of print, on the success of the Muslim conquest of what had been the Byzantine Middle East:
It must be added that other elements, too, were responsible for the ease with which certain towns surrendered to the invaders. The population of Byzantine Syria, for example, were, as we know, very dissatisfied with the Byzantine rule which was imposed on them, and which expressed itself chiefly in fiscal demands held to be intolerable. Besides, these populations had adopted, from the religious point of view, Christian doctrines which did not conform with orthodoxy as defined by Byzantium. The Monophysite doctrine was there dominant and hostility to official theological formulas, which was usual, was without doubt based on a diffused feeling of discontent rather than on precise intellectual reasoning. In general, the eastern Roman Empire, whose dominion extended to Africa, was composed of provinces too various from an ethnic viewpoint and at the same time too developed culturally to be able to remain for long under the domination of Byzantium. Their inhabitants, who had for many decades observed, and sometimes taken part in, theological quarrels, did not find themselves in a position to reject immediately as a new religion, what appeared to them rather like a simple sect of Christian origin, as some contemporary texts suggest. Thus no urban group in a Syria or an Egypt politically or religiously detached from Byzantium had serious reasons for not seeking, by a negotiated capitulation, some satisfactory arrangement permitting it at the same time to preserve the lives and goods of its members in the centre of the new regime which these latter themselves helped make viable.Perhaps it is only "these latter," in Qutb's view, who were the real Christians.
Monday, July 08, 2002
Peter Larsen, who has sent in plenty of thoughtful commentary and was one of Ideofact's earliest correspondents, sent me this email on a topic I touched on a while back:
In reference to your Intelligent Design post, I'd like to direct you to Talk.Origins. They are definitely a science and evolution oriented site, but they do link to creationist articles periodically. On the subject of the development of the eye, this addresses it. Whew. Of course, since a couple of weeks have passed since you talked about this, maybe it's old news....No, not old news, and thanks for the link to eyes. To be honest, although an 8th biology teacher of mine made me read The Origin of Species (I can't remember exactly why -- I think I wanted him to read a baseball book, and he said he would if I'd read Darwin), I'd forgotten that Darwin addressed this.
Peter first emailed me with some comments on the relative importance of science and technology in the Middle Ages. It was a spirited discussion (at least his emails were), and he made a lot of good points. Hopefully, he'll permit me to -- very belatedly -- post them.
Sorry, no Qutb tonight. I'm a little too burnt out to take on chapter three just now (although in truth, I did write a little of it). Tomorrow I'll resume the odyssey through Islamist wonderland.