An ideofact is an artifact imbued with meanings other than its technical function.
Friday, August 30, 2002
I can't recall seeing much made of this on the blogosphere or in the news (although I may be wrong -- these things are blurring together). But the site IslamOnline.net (which isn't exactly the most reliable news source out there -- plenty of fatwas, articles claiming evolutionary science has been disproven, etc. etc.) has posted what it purports to be a recent letter from Osama bin Laden (you can view the original here). The document covers four sides of paper, is hand-written, and is addressed to the Afghan people. IslamOnline.net reports:
In the undated letter posted to the website, the writer urges Afghans to launch a new Jihad against U.S. troops now in Afghanistan and predicts the fall of the United States.I did a Google search for "bin Laden letter" -- the most recent result was a June 30, 2002 Time magazine article which says that a December 2001 note found in the possession of al-Qaeda operations chief Abu Zubaydah, who was arrested in Pakistan last March and remains in U.S. custody, suggests that bin Laden survived the assault on Tora Bora.
The most recent IslamOnline story leads with the fact that the State Department has posted the letter on its website, and later notes:
The two-page typewritten verbatim English translation was posted on the State Department website (www.osac-ds.org) a day later as a "special topic" of global interest.They give the wrong address for the site, it's here, and the translation of the letter is here. It's on the Overseas Security Advisory Council's site (and no, I'd never heard of it before either):
The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) was established in 1985 by the U.S. Department of State to foster the exchange of security related information between the U.S. Government and American private sector operating abroad. Administered by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, OSAC has developed into an enormously successful joint venture for effective security cooperation. Through OSAC, the American private sector, including colleges and universities, is provided timely information on which to make informed corporate decisions on how best to protect their investment, facilities, personnel and intellectual property abroad.Here's an excerpt from the translation:
O Afghan people, God has granted you the honor of carrying out Jihad in his cause and of sacrificing all that is dear for upholding His great word; namely, there is no God but Him and Muhammad is His prophet, on your land. The global infidelity did not accept what you wanted [preceding three words scratched out in original text] what you meant; namely, upholding this word on your land [preceding six words scratched out in original text]. Here are Britain, Russia, and the United States in the field defying and testing [preceding word scratched out in original text] the Muslim's zeal all over the world.It's pretty hard to tell from the passage quoted -- or from the complete text for that matter -- when the letter was written, and of course, I'm in absolutely no position whatsoever to determine whether it was actually written by bin Laden. Consider this post to be an "I report, you decide" exercise. Still, something troubles me.
As Joe Katzman pointed out recently, Stratfor hasn't exactly been infallible of late, but nevertheless, this analysis on what the service describes as the "rapidly deteriorating" situation in Afghanistan notes
Abdel-Bari Atwan, the editor of London's Al-Quds Al-Arabi magazine who reportedly is close to associates of Osama bin Laden, told Reuters Aug. 27 that bin Laden is firmly back in control of a regrouped and reorganized al Qaeda. He said the shock and disruption of the initial U.S. attack against the group has worn off and that al Qaeda has regained confidence, re- established ties with the Taliban and is preparing for a protracted war of attrition in Afghanistan.Stratfor says that U.S. troops are having a hard time of it in Afghanistan, although they're fairly careful to note that the violence isn't necessarily related to al Qaeda or the Taliban.
I don't quite know what to make of all this; as I said, I'm just passing along a few things that I found worth pondering. There have been suggestions of late that al Qaeda is still operational; the letter, if genuine, suggests that the group may be planning, as Stratfor puts it, a war of attrition in Afghanistan:
Afghanistan offers all the communications, logistics, support, cover and terrain familiarity these groups lack elsewhere. Both groups [al Qaeda and the Taliban] say the Afghan resistance in the 1980s was responsible not only for repulsing the Soviet invasion but also for contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. They will jump at the opportunity to trap another superpower in the same grinder.Troubling stuff, if any of it is true...
Thursday, August 29, 2002
I've added a link to Swedenborgian Glenn Frazier's site to the left. My old Philadelphia stomping grounds were a center for the Swedenborg sect, and I just pulled a volume from Ideofact's largely unread library which I bought there years ago. The book is Heaven and Hell, the 51st printing of the volume put out in 1962 by the Swedenborg Foundation Incorporated, New York. It has this helpful introductory note:
If you have had no previous acquaintance with the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, or if you have tried to read them and have found them hard to understand, this special way of approach is suggested:That was actually helpful advice, although for the record, I'm more attached to Blake than Swedenborg.
Glenn also has an excellent Iranian Freedom Index, which is well worth checking frequently (I do).
First, let me thank the great Aziz Poonawalla (to whom I also owe a personal email -- it's coming) for interceding with the very kind and very busy Evan Williams of Blogger to get the missing post of my Qutb series restored to the archives. Thanks, Aziz, and thanks to Evan too -- it sounds like it was a difficult process (to say the least).
I'll get back to chapter seven over the weekend, but in the meantime, I'd like to recommend this paper from the United States Air Force Chaplain Service on radical Islam. An excerpt:
Qutb was profoundly moved by Mawdudi’s analysis of Islam. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1953 and was imprisoned with a large number of Muslim Brotherhood members by Nasser in 1954. He was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor. It was in Nassar’s prison camps that he became convinced that true Muslims and secularists could not live at peace in the same society. Known today as the founder of Sunni fundamentalism, Qutb was convinced that the secular world must be destroyed. He wrote:The paper traces the origins of Islamism, and is well worth a read. I'd write more, but I've got to indulge my mad lust for naked flesh, provovative postures, and sick, suggestive statements contained in my collection of late 1940s issues of Life Magazine...Humanity today is living in a large brothel! One has only to glance at its press, films, fashion shows, beauty contests, ballrooms, wine bars, and broadcasting stations! Or observe its mad lust for naked flesh, provocative postures, and sick, suggestive statements in literature, the arts and the mass media!He called for Muslims to revolt against this secular city and to restore a sense of the spiritual to modern society. Because the governments in Islamic countries are corrupt, the call to jihad was incumbent on true Muslims everywhere to rise up against injustice. Now, for the first time, we see jihad understood as an individual duty and not as a communal obligation. Fearing that the violent secularism of the Nasser regime was destroying Islam, Qutb espoused a form of Islam that was diametrically opposed to the Quran and the witness of the prophet. Qutb urged Muslims to separate themselves from mainstream society and engage in a violent jihad. When confronted by the Quranic witness that advocated non-violence, opposed force and coercion in religious matters, and demonstrated tolerance and inclusiveness, Qutb insisted that these Quranic injunctions to peace and toleration could only occur after the establishment of a true Islamic state. So radical was Qutb’s call to arms that at Nasser’s personal insistence he was executed in 1966. Far from silencing this radical movement, it served only to fan the flames of rage as Islamic Fundamentalism now had its first martyr.
I came across this in my reading today:
He has nothing in his mouth but privies, filth and dung, with which he plays the buffoon...he would cast into his mouth the dung which other men would spit out into a basin...If he will leave off the folly and rage and the till now too familiar mad ravings, if he will swallow down his filth and lick up the dung with which he has so foully defiled his tongue and his pen...to carry nothing in his mouth but bilge-water, sewers, privies, filth and dung...we will take timely counsel, whether we wish...to leave this mad friarlet and privy-minded rascal with his ragings and ravings, with his filth and dung, shitting and beshitted.The subject is Martin Luther; the author is the humanist and scholar, Saint Thomas More, about whom the Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
His controversial writings are mentioned below in the list of his works, and it is sufficient here to say that, while far more refined than most polemical writers of the period, there is still a certain amount that tastes unpleasant to the modern reader. At first he wrote in Latin but, when the books of Tindal and other English Reformers began to be read by people of all classes, he adopted English as more fitted to his purpose and, by doing so, gave no little aid to the development of English prose.
"Tindal" is William Tyndale, who was the first to translate the Greek New Testament and portions of the Hebrew Old Testament into English. He did not finish the latter task; through the conspiracies of Thomas More's humanistic friends, he was trapped, tried as a heretic, strangled and his corpse burnt on the stake. As to the judgment of More's contribution to the English language, David Daniell, the biographer of Tyndale (who provides the quote from More I copied above) dryly disagrees with that assessment:
More gave us three quarters of a million words of scarcely readable prose attacking Tyndale. Tyndale outraged More by giving us the Bible in English, England's greatest contribution to the world for nearly five hundred years.While I have immensely enjoyed Daniell's book, and while I agree that Tyndale's achievement has been regrettably all but forgotten by history (even though his words are still used in every day speech: the powers that be, my brother's keeper, even eat, drink and be merry), I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say the Tyndale Bible (which, ironically, formed the basis of the first authorized Catholic Bible translation into English) was England's greatest contribution for 500 years -- although one could argue that it was the greatest contribution to the English language (greater than Shakespeare).
That said, I should add that I find it difficult to think of a single quotable English line of More's.
Note: I've added a link to the Tyndale Society to the left, of which the good Dr. Daniell is chairman.
Wednesday, August 28, 2002
I came across a passage in an essay written by the great Argentinian, Jorge Luis Borges, that is worth sharing. It was written during World War Two. I thought of it after reading this post from Charles Johnson's excellent Little Green Footballs site. It's about the Argentinians who gloried in Hitler's victories and despised the Allies. Borges said of them
From the beginning, I knew that it was useless to ask the people themselves. They are changeable; through their practice of incoherence they have lost every notion that incoherence should be justified: they venerate the German race, but they abhor "Saxon" America; they condemn the articles of Versailles, but they applaud the marvels of the Blitzkrieg; they are anti-Semitic, but they profess a religion of Hebrew origin; they laud submarine warfare, but they vigorously condemn acts of piracy by the British; they denounce imperialism, but they vindicate and promulgate the theory of Lebensraum; they idolize San Martin, but they regard the independence of America as a mistake; they apply the canon of Jesus to the acts of England, but the canon of Zarathustra to those of Germany.Many of the arguments against going to war with Iraq have this same quality; those who oppose war set one standard for the United States and an entirely different standard for Iraq. Among the arguments I have heard are the following (they run from the respectable to the not-so-respectable): We cannot fight because war with Iraq will hurt our economy and our sole motivation is the economic boon of cheap oil; Saddam Hussein possesses no weapons of mass destruction and his stockpile of weapons of mass destruction makes fighting too risky; war would destabilize a region that is desperately in need of radical political reform; the Iraqi people have a right to choose Saddam as their leader and the United States supported the tyrant Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war; the United Nations must approve a war while the sanctions are a cruel U.S. device to starve children; we are anti-Arab racists and are controlled by the powerful Zionist lobby that desires a war. I could go on: the United States must abide by the will of the United Nations but Iraq can flout the ceasefire brokered by the U.N.; the case for a war has not been made and attempts to lay out the case for preemptive action against Iraq unnecessarily raises tensions; the U.S. will have no stomach for occupying Iraq for years to create a stable state, and if we hadn't been patrolling the no-fly zones for the last decade, the Kurdish statelet in northern Iraq would not have been viable.
I could go further, but as a non-Saxon American, I'm not all that eager to extend the incoherences.
I've started adding new links to the left. I'd comment on what I've seen of them, but I'm wiped out for now. I'll be back tomorrow.
I hate to invoke the name for something so friviolous, but this is the price of being a Kafka blogger--someone who does his blogging all his blogging at night, then goes to his respectable job during the day, which is too busy for this sort of activity. I often don't have the energy to write as much as I'd like. One of these days I'd like to get back to my old friend Jean Gimpel, but I'm too tired now to even finish all the reciprocal links I owe people...
Amir Taheri (about whom I've previously written here, here and here) has written a news analysis on capital punishment and Islam, pegged to Turkey's abolition of the practice. I have no complaints about the piece. And this paragraph struck me:
According to most surveys, almost 70 percent of all legal executions in the world during the past two decades have taken place in the Muslim world. The overwhelming majority of those executed had been convicted of so-called "political crimes," which means opposing the regimes in place. In Iran alone at least 28,000 people were executed between 1979 and 2000.
Tuesday, August 27, 2002
This is from an interview with Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (perhaps better known to Americans as the northern "no-fly zone" in Iraq) published in the international Arab daily, Asharq Al-Awsat, and reproduced on KurdishMedia News:
I was asked about the position of the Kurdish people regarding possible entry of American forces to Kurdistan. My reply was that the Kurdish people welcome the presence of American forces in Kurdistan in order to defend the freedom they enjoy and to prevent being attacked with weapons of mass destruction. This is the view of the Kurdish people after the Americans rescued them in 1991 from tragedy and mass expulsion. There is a kind of sympathy with the Americans who are looked upon as liberators. It is the American air protection, which safeguards the freedom enjoyed by the Kurdish region. It guarantees the cultural, health and civilizational progress made in Iraqi Kurdistan. That is why the Kurdish people would welcome the presence of American forces in Kurdistan. This issue must not be mixed up with the idea of invading Iraq. We in the Iraqi opposition have a common stand that the opposition forces, assisted by regional and international states including the United States, must undertake comprehensive democratic changes.Then, there's this exchange:
Q. Do you think the elimination of weapons of mass destruction is , as the Americans say, is the real reason behind the American determination for change in Iraq, even if it requires the use of military force ?I found the whole thing interesting.
After six months and much agonizing, I decided to add a counter to Ideofact. My reasons for not doing so previously were several -- one, I figured I'd get discouraged by what I assumed was a ridiculously low amount of traffic; two, the counter button is one more thing to slow down the speed at which the page loads; and three, I felt that email was a better indication of how much traffic I was getting. But curiosity finally got the better of me.
For what it's worth, the site got a respectable amount of traffic in the first four hours after I added the counter -- enough so that I don't feel like I'm wasting my time (actually, much more than I expected for what is after all a quirky boutique of a blog).
I also discovered a few sites worth reading that have linked me; I am embarrassed that I have yet to add reciprocal links -- I will do so tomorrow.
Last night, I continued sharing my reflections on Sayyid Qutb's work, Social Justice in Islam. Qutb, an Egyptian "intellectual" (in the same way we might speak of Lenin as an intellectual) has been called "the brains behind Osama" (although why D'Souza didn't go for the much more alliterative "brains behind bin Laden," I can't say). Qutb was born in Egypt in 1903, had memorized the Qur'an word for word before his tenth birthday, lived in the West (in the late 1940s and early '50s, including a stint in the United States, where he was apparently shocked by the promiscuity of American women) before returning to Egypt, where he soon ran afoul of the Nasser regime. He was executed in 1966.
I commented on chapter one here, chapter two here and here, chapter three here (although Blogger appears to have eaten that post -- I'm hoping they can restore it, because I didn't back it up) and here and here, chapter four here, five here, six here, and the first part of what is the lengthiest chapter in the book, the seventh, here.
In the seventh chapter, Qutb attempts to show, through his reading of the history of Islam, the ideal of a socially just Islamic society, of the manner in which Islam transforms a polity -- both individuals and society at large -- to arrive at the ideal of social justice.
From the outset, it's apparent that Qutb has little interest in classical liberalism. For the classical liberal, social justice is an outgrowth of a free society. The power of the state is limited by the franchise, freedom of speech and conscience, property rights, the rule of law and so on. The institutions of society are open to individuals who are the ultimate arbiters of what is just. Qutb isn't interested in critiquing classical liberalism (at least in this work), rather he sets the goal of society as that nebulous term "social justice," and both citizen and ruler, individual and state, must bow their backs to achieving it.
After introducing his theme, he attacks a contemporary of his who wrote of the personalities of Islamic history (the Caliphate, generals, soldiers, but not the Prophet) as acting according to the universal condition of human nature -- that is, they were prone to greed, pride, self-sacrifice, heroism, lust, calculation, self-interest, etc. Qutb argues that their actions can only be understood according to the Qur'an and the Hadith -- they are not hitstorical people, in other words, but merely explications of texts. Qutb then describes the individual -- the "New Islamic Man" if you will. Ma'iz bin Malik is one of several examples, but it is the one Qutb praises most effusively and to which Qutb devotes the lengthiest discussion. Ma'iz, you may recall, is the adulterer who, knowing full well he would be stoned to death, confessed his crime four times, sealing his fate. Qutb seems to prefer the example he sets to that of the Prophet.
There follows a lengthy discussion of rulers and subjects. Qutb's main point in this section seems to be that any man can criticize the ruler without losing his head. Then we hit the next major theme of the chapter: the conquests of Islam. After quoting the line from the Qur'an "There shall be no compulsion in religion," (2:257), Qutb explains what this means on a practical level:
Of what nature were these conquests?In other words, once one's polity is destroyed, there is a choice: conversion, paying an extra tax, or being slaughtered. In the West, after long bloody centuries of religious strife, we arrived at a form of society that allows the propogators of Islam free reign to seek converts. In his autobiography, Jefferson wrote of Virginia's Statute of Religious Freedom,
...they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every demonination.Qutb is dismissive of such things:
As for the freedom of religious belief, of which so much is often made in this age, the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition hardly bear out such a claim, nor do the horrors prepretrated by the Crusaders in the East.It would probably be lost on him that that the notion of religious freedom was a reaction and solution to the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition and the like.
I'll continue this in a third post on chapter seven.
Monday, August 26, 2002
Imagine for a moment two young people, raised in a strict culture, who chance upon both the inclination and the extraordinarily rare opportunity for passion. Let us say that they are average in appearance and social standing -- nothing special, in other words. The first tentative glances and touches, the knowing smile, the kiss, the awkward undressing, then all that awkwardness lost in the losing of oneself in the embrace of another for a few fleeting moments.
Such is not the stuff of history, nor perhaps of literature (although I have read a fair number of books and poems based on even less). I provide the image only because I do not know where else to start, except perhaps at this imagined beginning, which is the sort of event that underlies what I am about to relate. I begin here because we can all, whether we identify with one of the young lovers or with their worried parents, identify with someone in this story.
In the seventh chapter of Sayyid Qutb's work, Social Justice in Islam, which is translated as "The Historical Reality of Social Justice in Islam," Qutb tries to explain to his readers the spirit of Islam operating throughout history. To give a sense of this spirit, he relates a tale from Hadith, which was reported by Buraida. A man named Ma'iz ibn Malik came to the Prophet, asking to be absolved of his sin. The Prophet told him to turn away from him and repent to Allah. Ma'iz returned again, with the same request, and received the same instructions. Then a third time. Then a fourth, whereupon the Prophet asked him what sin. "Adultery," the man answered. The Prophet demanded to know whether Ma'iz were mad. No, he was told by those who knew him. Then the Prophet asked whether he were drunk. No, he was told by those who smelled his breath. Then the Prophet gave the order: bury him in the sand up to his chest, and stone him to death.
A short time later, Qutb tells us, the Prophet commends to the faithful the example of Ma'iz. Regrettably, there appears to be a misprint in my edition of the work, but here is what the Prophet says, according to Qutb:
Seek pardon of with Allah for Ma'iz bin Malik; for he has made such repentance that if it had been on behalf of a whole community it would have been effective for all.Again, these are the words of the Prophet himself, as reported by Qutb, although he does not cite the collection of Hadith he quotes from. The missing word or words between the third word "of" and the following "with" raise various questions in my mind, although it's possible that one or the other is superfluous..."Seek pardon of Allah, Seek pardon with Allah," make sense as well. By phrasing it this way, it seems that Qutb is invoking the idea of a single blood sacrifice to sanctify the community, something almost akin to the Crucifixion, but with a perverse twist: Christ, in Christian theology, died for other men's sins; Ma'iz died for his own.
In any case, to return to Qutb's telling of the Hadith, a woman in the crowd comes forward after the Prophet speaks, and asks him to purify her. The Prophet tells her the same thing he initially told Ma'iz, whereupon she asks if he will continue to rebuff her as he did her lover. For she was the one with whom Ma'iz committed adultery, and what is more, she is pregnant with his child. The Prophet bids his followers to watch her until she has given birth, then, because they cannot deprive the newborn of a nurse, to care for him until he can solid food. At length she returned, and showed the Prophet that the child could eat bread by itself. He ordered that she be buried up to her breast, then stoned to death. Khalid, one of the Prophet's followers, hit her head with a rock, which caused her blood to spout all over him. Khalid cursed her, but the Prophet told him to hold his tongue, that she had made repentance such that had a taxgatherer made it, all would be forgiven him. Then the Prophet prayed over her.
Qutb is unequivocal in his interpretation of this story:
Now neither Ma'iz bin Malik nor his partner in crime were ignorant of the dreadful penalty that the would have to pay or of the shameful end that they would have to face. No one had seen them, to establish the fact of their crime. Nevertheless, they pressed the Messenger importunately, no matter what was dictated by his mercy and by that of Islam, to deny them the benefit of any doubt; they closed all possible ways against their own escape; indeed the woman even confronted Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, with wanting to repulse her as he had repulsed Ma'iz. She almost accused Allah's Messenger of neglecting his own religion.Qutb points to, not the Prophet, but the sinners who go willingly to their deaths as the ideal of the spirit of Islam. Their voluntary death is what Islam demands: This is Islam, he tells us. There is no alternative, no chance for mercy, no chance of redemption beyond the rocks raining down on their heads, cracking their skulls and spilling their blood. To sacrifice oneself in such a manner is glorious; to want to live, perhaps to love again, is damnation. In Qutb's reading, even Muhammad's reluctance to know of their sin is a wavering from the faith, at once a sign of mercy and nearly a sign of impiety.
My friend Aziz Poonawalla has noted that not all Hadith cited by the major Sunni compilers are authentic. He notes that scholars of the Hanafi school rejected many of them as being of dubious origin. I am a poor student of Islam at best, and am certainly not able to find out how the Hanafi regarded the story of Ma'iz bin Malik and his lover. I did find various collections of Hadith that tell the story more or less as Qutb did, along with a few variations. This one, for example, from book 38, number 4405 of the collection of Sunan Abu-Duwad:
It does not quite suggest the voluntary confession and brave acceptance of punishment that Qutb points to as the ideal of Islam. Other Hadith from the same collection tell us that the Prophet did not pray for Ma'iz, and that, if I am not misreading this, that it would have been better had Ma'iz not confessed (and, presumably, not been stoned to death). It seems that all three Hadith contradict parts of the version Qutb prefers.
Be that as it may, the important point is to note that Qutb demands of the believer a devotion to the law supercedes the will to live. By the standard Qutb demands, the consequence of a moment's passion is to be death, with no possible alternative (one wonders why Ma'iz couldn't have just married the girl to make an honest woman of her).
I noted that Tim Blair linked a forum on the BBC's site in which the subject of stoning to death as a punishment for adultery was raised (albeit with a fairly bizarre question). Blair ably dissects, with his razor-sharp with, those who support stoning, but he does not note this comment, the only one (as far as I could see) from a Muslim seeking something of a middle ground:
As a Muslim, may I point out that the true punishment of adultery in Islam is NOT stoning to death, as some so-called Muslim countries have imposed. The Koran, which is the basis of Sharia, clearly says "The adulteress and the adulterer flog each one of them with a hundred stripes..." (ch24:3). This can only be imposed if there are four righteous witnesses to the act of adultery, which clearly shows that Islam does not want to punish such acts if they are conducted in private, that at the end of the day is between you and God.This is a remarkably different reading from Qutb's regarding the demands of the law, and further, the obligation of the believer.