An ideofact is an artifact imbued with meanings other than its technical function.
Saturday, September 14, 2002
Defeated and Hopeless
Via Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs, I came across this Mark Steyn column, which contains this fascinating passage:
One of the most moving conversations I've had in the last 12 months was out in the Gulf this spring with an elderly British Arabist. He told me rather poignantly that the biggest change in his lifetime was the visible demoralization of the population: Anyone who remembered the imperfect yet functioning Arab societies of the Fifties could only marvel at how defeated and hopeless the battered citizens of those countries are today. The various strains of Middle Eastern loser kleptocrats have drained not just the wealth but the very life from their subjects.When I was a kid, I imagined the totalitarian Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc nations under its heel as places where gray-complexioned, slumped-over people waited in endless lines under permanently overcast skies. Those weather patterns have obviously shifted to the Middle East...
Al-Ahram reports on an Islamist seminar in Cairo:
During the seminar's opening session, Azzam said that if the US widens its war against Arab and Islamic states, a "sleeping giant" of Islamic forces who used to believe in coexistence with the West will be awakened. "The campaigns against Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, and Sudan will surely awaken the sleeping giant... [and] those forces will surely move, and the picture and the future of the world will change," opined Azzam.I gather that Azzam -- who is the maternal uncle of Ayman El-Zawahri, bin Laden's right hand man -- means that a war aimed at deposing Saddam Hussein is the equivalent of "dismantling" the Arab world and "laying siege" to the Islamic one. He has a far lower opinion of both Islam and Arabs than I do (most Islamists share this bizarre trait).
But the money quote, as it were, comes from the conference's organizer, Islamist lawyer Montasser El-Zayyat, who said:
El-Zayyat said that a year following the 11 September attacks, "we are surprised by America's [intention of] launching of a war against Iraq, which is sure to arouse yet more feelings of anger among Muslims... The Americans should ask themselves why the strikes were aimed at them and not elsewhere, like Europe? The answer is the US's biased policies regarding Israel against the Muslims."With all due respect, Mr. El-Zayyat, you should be asking why it is that when airplanes fly into skyscrapers, Americans immediately think of Muslims, and why it is that America is preparing to strike against the likes of you.
Friday, September 13, 2002
Theophanes, Nicetas and Al-Kindi
A while back, I linked an awful Ann Coulter column. While reading it, I had the vaguest of feelings that I'd read it somewhere before, or a summation of precisely the same arguments: That Muhammad was inspired by Satan, that he was a pedophile, that every Muslim is bound to commit murderous acts in the name of the faith, etc. etc. I should have thought in terms of Greek Christianity of the 9th Century instead of the Latin variety, but as it is, an odd book I'm reading, A History of Christian-Muslim Relations, by Hugh Goddard, fortuitously provided the example I was looking for:
The genesis of Islam, Theophanes writes, is that Muhammad had epilepsy, and because of this he had some problems with his wife Khadija, who had raised him from a modest estate by marrying him. He then travelled to Palestine and Egypt, where he met Jews and Christians, and where he was helped by a heretical Christian monk to put his religious knowledge to good use by claiming to be an apostle. The message of Islam, according to Theophanes, includes references to a sensual paradise, which is obtained by anyone who kills or is killed by an enemy, a call to jihad, military warfare, and an invitation to intemperate living, though it is acknowledged that it also includes a recommendation to help the opporessed.Earlier in the text, Goddard writes about Al-Kindi, who was invited around 820 AD to convert from Christianity to Islam. Noting that Al-Kindi turned down the offer, he writes that Al-Kindi explained his reasons:
These included his suggestion that Muhammad should not be seen as a prophet, since he did not perform miracles, and a number of incidents in his life, involving the use of violence in Holy War and also his treatment of women, throw a somewhat negative light on his character; and that the Qur'an's claim to be the word of God is also questionable in light of its barbaric teaching about women and about Holy War, and the fact that the text has not been authentically translated and preserved.I said Goddard's book was odd; I say so because regardless of the text he's writing about, he sanitizes its content insofar as possible. You lose any sense of the invective with which these three wrote. To get that sense, take a look at the Coulter column (although understand, this isn't an endorsement of her).
Averroes and Catapults
Lynn B. of In Context had an interesting post the other day on a fatwa that I believe was issued to justify supporting the Taliban against the West. The issuer of the fatwa equated the slaughter of innocents with the permissibility of using the catapult in warfare:
Also, Muslim commanders have always used Catapult when fighting the Kuffar (a kind of weapon that was used in the past when trying to break into an enemy camp which is fully fortressed - it destroys whatever it meets by its weight, i.e. something like a catapult - translator), and it is obvious that a Catapult when applied in a war does not differentiate between a fighter and others, hence it may afflict some those so-called 'innocent souls', but that not withstanding this is an established practice among Muslims in their wars.Lynn comments,
Well, how 'bout that! Oh, but it's only permissible if you're a Muslim killing mushrikin (polytheists). Sorry. Doesn't apply to Jews executing Muslim terrorists. Silly me.What surprised me was the invocation of Ibn Rushd, perhaps better known in the West as Averroes, who was a legal scholar, physician, theologian, and was considered the greatest commentator on Aristotle (and not an inconsequential philosopher in his own right). Generally, the Islamists reject Averroes as being too influenced by Greek philosophy to be an authority on Islam. It's a pity that the one time I've seen him cited favorably by an Islamist, it's to justify barbarism, although I'd be willing to bet that his remark (doing what will weaken the enemy is justified against polytheists) probably did not extend to flying airplanes into buildings, or strapping on bomb belts and slaughtering diners and students and shoppers. I'd love to see the context of the quote.
Xavier Basora of Buscaraons notes (second item) an Arab News editorial which says, in part,
The world rightly remembers with pain and grief of the massacre of the innocents in Washington and New York a year ago. The same cannot be said of the massacre of the innocents in Srebrenica. The slaughter of between 8,000 and 9,000 in July 1995 by Bosnian Serb forces evokes no similar international outpouring of emotion; it is not marked by wall-to-wall coverage around the globe.Xavier (or should I call him Prof. Basora?) expresses some outrage, noting that like Sept. 11, the story was covered live on cable networks, that there have been inquiries into the performance of Dutch troops who were supposed to protect the Bosnians but didn't, and that Milosevic's trial is another manifestation of the West's remembrance of those victims.
I agree with him, although I also happen to agree with this assessment from the editorial:
Yet what happened at Srebrenica should not be forgotten or, worse, written out of the history books. That is precisely what the Bosnian Serb government has just tried to do with a vile report that denies that the massacre took place. With its ridiculous claims that exhausted Muslim men imagined the massacre, its accusation that a Serb soldier who admitted taking part in the killings was “mentally disturbed”, and its grim determination to ignore the physical evidence of the mass graves, the report is so patently absurd that many people might say that it does not deserve a response. That would be wrong.Of course, Arab News is generally so despicable that its moral authority on this, or any other issue, is next to nothing, but that doesn't mean they're wrong all the time.
One other thing worth noting: it was the massacre at Srebrenica, and the Bosnian Serbs threat to overrun the U.N. safe haven at Bihac, that led the United States and NATO to intervene in the conflict, putting an end to that bloody chapter of the Balkan Wars, and some of the criminals responsibe for the massacres have been brought to justice, others indicted, some still awaiting trial, others at large. The victims of Srebrenica are best remembered by hunting down their killers.
Thursday, September 12, 2002
I probably won't resume the Qutb series til next week. I note that Sayyid is mentioned in this piece on Opinion Journal by Francis Fukuyama and Nadav Samin, "Can Any Good Come of Radical Islam?" I agree with them that Qutb's ideology was a departure from Islam (he threw out every development after the 7th Century, more or less, and his reading of the first century of the Islamic era is highly skewed and selective), but I'm not so sure it can be reduced to "Leninism in an Islamist dress." But the whole piece is stimulating, and well worth reading.
Official Iraqi reaction to Sept. 11
I'm surprised I haven't seen this mentioned of late, so I thought it was worth digging up (I began to wonder if it had really happened). It took me all of ten minutes on Nexis to find the story, which I repeat here:
Agence France PresseI looked up the English language version of the Iraqi official media, INA, and found this open letter to the American people from Saddam Hussein, dated September 15. Here are a few excerpts:
Isn’t the use by America and some Western governments of their fire against others in the world including, or in the forefront of whom the Arabs and the Muslims, is one of the most important reasons of the lack of stability in the world at the present time?There follows a second open letter, dated Sept. 18, and a third, from Oct. 29, which makes the interesting suggestion that America unilaterally disarm:
I don't have much to add by way of comment. I won't insult your intelligence by pointing out all the differences between Sept. 11 and the Gulf War, or remind you of Saddam's wars against Iraq and Kuwait, his gassing of Iranian soldiers and Kurdish civilians, or the brutality of his regime.
I remember the taunts reported in the AFP article, which I think were also written about by the Associated Press and were picked up on by a few cable news outlets. It is also interesting to note that in one of the open letters, he took up the theme of the desecration of the Holy Mosques, a cause espoused by bin Laden.
Memories of Sept. 12
Walking out of my house in the morning and seeing the smoke still rising from the Pentagon ... exhausted firefighters, the rescue workers, police, and paramedics assemble in the parking lot beside the "Double Nickle," the Arlington County fire company closest to the Pentagon ... the national guard soldiers and humvees on 17th St. beside Farragut Square, and the thumbs up and salutes and waves Washingtonians gave them as they passed ... a frantic moment when I got into work and got a voicemail message from my wife to run home, because the Pentagon was burning and she was worried about our son; it took me a few minutes to figure out she had left it the day before, and there wasn't a second attack ... reading Andrew Sullivan's posts ... reading some guy I'd only vaguely heard of before, a law professor who called himself the Instapundit ... not accomplishing a damn thing all day ... going home early ... getting off the metro at Pentagon City and seeing the smoke still rising ... more vehicles loading up supplies at the Double Nickle before heading off to the Pentagon, while exhausted firefighters, rescue workers, police and paramedics, covered in soot, drank gatorade ... hearing my then-nearly three-year-old son say "God Bless America," and having no idea how he had picked up that phrase of all the ones he had been hearing the last 36 hours, but being grateful it was that one none the less ...
Tuesday, September 10, 2002
When I switched over to Blogger Pro, several posts of mine disappeared, among them this one, in which I wrote about some Islamist nonsense claiming that only their brutal interpretation of the Qur'an provided for mankind "a sound solution which is compatible with man’s innate nature." I was discursive as usual, but the end of the post, quoting, as usual, a writer and thinker far more gifted than me, still strikes me as a useful reminder:
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”I still think Steiner's words are as evocative as anything else I've read of the unique grandeur of the American system, which is not a top down but a bottom up society. Twelve months after September 11, they still seem as timely a reminder of what we are about as they did six months ago.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.
Memory of September 10
I actually remember September 10 quite well, and the 8th and 9th. I had spent a good part of the weekend working on an orphaned project whose due date was Sept. 14. I'd roped a pair of colleagues into helping me; one was visiting family in London, the other, like me, spent a fair amount of his weekend slaving over a computer screen. Around 10:30 on the morning of the 10th, we compared notes at the coffeeshop next to our building. We'd both made significant progress; what seemed impossible the Friday before now seemed doable. I spent the rest of the day with my office door closed, putting his work and my work together while he forged ahead.
At 6:30 p.m., we looked at what we had done. Amazingly, we were a few hours from finishing. I remember getting on the elevator, and thinking that we'd be done by noon -- no latter than 2 p.m. -- the next day, September 11.
Joshua Treviño notes a Guardian report that Saudi officials are blaming the British Embassy in Riyadh of coordinating a series of bombings in Arabia to destabilize the Saudi autocracy. Josh calls the British "the lastest whipping boy for Islamist terrorism."
Apparently, he's unaware that the British invented Wahhabism, at least according to a fairly prevalent conspiracy theory in the Islamic world...
Monday, September 09, 2002
Recently I picked up a slim little volume, a translation of Johannes Reuchlin's legal brief, Recommendation Whether to Confiscate, Destroy and Burn All Jewish Books, written in Stuttgart in October 1510. It's a strange document, and not entirely what the the editors imply it is when they describe it as "A Classic Treatise against Anti-Semitism." It's published by the Paulist Press, whose mission statement says that it aims to
* bring the good news of the Gospel to Catholics and people of other religious traditions;The press' work is connected to the mission of the Paulist Fathers, an American Catholic missionary group. You can read the history of both here.
Reuchlin was a good Catholic who argued for the supremacy of the state over the Church, a humanist who compiled a Latin dictionary at the age of 20 (in 1475) and the best Hebrew-Latin dictionary compiled by a gentile (De Rudimentis Hebraicis, 1506), who also dabbled in the mystical kabbalah. He studied with some fairly prominent Jewish scholars, but some of his writings are tinged with anti-Semitic flourishes that make the modern reader cringe. Even the Recommendation is tainted by this sort of thing -- at one point, Reuchlin argues that Hebrew books should be preserved because they confirm Christian truths, allowing the clever Christian to "stab the Jews with their own knife."
A little context may be in order. In 1507, a Jewish convert to Christianity, one Johannes Pfefferkorn, published the first in a series of pamphlets claiming that Jewish books -- the Torah, the Talmud, and so on -- contained blasphemies and slanders against Christianity, and should be burned as a first step toward the forcible conversion of his former co-religionists to the Christian faith. Pfefferkorn probably did not read Hebrew, the language of the books he criticized, or Latin, the language in which his pamphlets were published. Most likely, he was used by the Dominican order, which had played an instrumental role in the Inquisition in Spain and the forced conversions and expulsions of Jews there, to foment a new round of violence against the Jews in Germany. Pfefferkorn's works were effective: In 1509, the Roman Emperor (that is, the Holy Roman Emperor) Maximillian I ordered the confiscation of Jewish books, to determine their contents. Some 168 manuscripts were confiscated in Frankfurt in 1509, and another 1500 the following year.
The Jews of Europe, of course, were a beleaguered minority struggling to maintain their identity. Their books transmitted not just a language but culture, philosophy, ethics and tradition. To destroy their books was to destroy them. It is thus all the more surprising that, at the end of his biography, the Catholic Encyclopedia says
Pfefferkorn was a fanatic and his public and literary life had little of sympathy or grace, but he was certainly an honourable character and the caricature which his opponents have drawn of him is far from true.In 1510, the Emperor asked for expert legal opinions before proceeding further. Jakob van Hoogstraeten, the Grand Inquisitor of Cologne, was one of two men whose opinions were solicited -- it was a foregone conclusion that he would argue in favor of fire. The other was Reuchlin who, among many other avocations, was a skilled lawyer.
In his Recommendation, Reuchlin argues from many different perspectives. He says that the Talmud confirms Christian scripture, and cites Christ's own words from the Gospels that the traditions should be studied. He cities papal bulls, the law of ancient Rome, and somewhat fancifully argues that Jews are better treated in Christian lands than anywhere else on earth, and should retain the right to their own faith. He writes that Hebrew books should be preserved because they will aid in the conversion of Jews, and that Jews should be allowed to practice their own religion in peace. He argues that the Church itself has no jurisdiction over Jews, since they belong to a separate faith that came before Christianity, and are not heretics after the manner of those who accepted Christianity, then perverted its teachings.
About this last argument is the smell of burning flesh. In 1511, Reuchlin's brief was published in Germany; in 1513, Jakob van Hoogstraeten, his opponent in the debate and the Grand Inquisitor of Cologne, instituted inquisitorial proceedings against Reuchlin and his opinion. The latter was burnt at the stake in 1514. Theologians considered the work heretical, and Reuchlin spent much of the rest of his life (he died in 1522) defending himself. In 1520 Pope Leo X confirmed the verdict, and condemned his works.
Yet it was not in vain. Whether by design or by default, Reuchlin made himself and his pamphlet the issue, and spared the Hebrew texts he had studied for much of his life from the pyre.
The Arab News says it's all right for me to continue my criticism of Qutb's Social Justice in Islam:
It is perfectly legitimate for a scholar to criticize another, provided he is sincere, aiming at explaining the truth, as he believes it, and refrains from personal or abusive attacks. When a person writes contemptuously of a scholar like Maudoodi or Sayyid Qutb, then he moves away from Islamic values.I wouldn't necessarily call myself a scholar, but I'm doing my best to provide as much evidence as possible, and I'll resume the series later this week. In the meantime, I found this interesting, from the same piece:
Sayyid Qutb has come for criticism more on account of how people tried to implement his ideas in a highly misguided way than for his ideas themselves.I've found that Qutb's ideas -- that force should be used to ensure piety, that pure Islam existed only in the first few decades of the faith's existence, and everything thereafter was compromised, that thinkers like Avicenna and Averroes are not part of Islam's heritage, that the West must be destroyed, to name a few -- are the problem, and followers of his, like bin Laden, understand him only too well.
For some reason, I feel I should point out that I wasn't personally offended by the Coulter piece I critiqued below (perhaps it's because I invoked my personal life in writing about it). Coulter is certainly entitled to her opinion, regardless of how little thought or reflection upon which she bases it.