paleo Ideofact

Friday, March 07, 2003
Remember the Alamo
I believe that both Tacitus, who takes the name of a historian, and Aziz Poonawalla have pretensions to being Texans, so I'm a little surprised that neither of them mentioned this yesterday -- not so much the article, but the event it commemorates.

I'm not a Texan, by any means (I'm originally from Pennsylvania -- a state which has some actual historical importance -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and so on) but though it pales in comparison to Pennsylvania history, I am nevertheless fond of the story of the Alamo.

I guess if either of them reads this post, I'll be getting some nasty email...

Quite a sad story about marital practices in Saudi Arabia from Arab News, in particular, the practice of marrying daughters off to their cousins. An excerpt:
The final word comes from Maha, another woman.

“There is the tradition of keeping a girl for her cousin. The problem is that this tradition often pleases nobody, yet fathers never change their minds. Sometimes they want to keep the money in the family instead of sharing it with outsiders, who they suspect are only after the money. Sometimes they say that the family is socially below us. If a cousin is younger than me, they will accept him simply because he is a cousin. In fact, this is exactly what happened to me: I had to marry my cousin who was two years younger — simply because my father and my cousin’s father had agreed to the marriage. I later discovered that my cousin was in love with another girl and he had promised to marry her. My cousin does not love me and I feel nothing for him. This is the price for our tradition of marrying girls to their cousins.”
I think I have enough blogger friends to correct me if I'm wrong (Aziz, Zack and Bin Gregory, I'm talking to you), but I believe that marrying daughters off to cousins is a tribal practice, rather than anything suggested or sanctioned by Islam. Or perhaps it's a corruption of the tribal system stemming from Saudi rule.

I mentioned below that I'm reading a rather interesting book, A History of Saudi Arabia by Madawi Al-Rasheed. She argues that Ibn Sa'ud, the founder of the current Saudi dynasty, departed from traditional, tribal practices and used marriage to consolidate his authority. In a tribal setting -- even a monogamous one (and this survived in Europe long past the tribal age; consider that in World War I, the Russian Czar, the German Kaiser, and the Queen of England were all related through marraige) -- marriages are used to cement alliances among ruling elites. If Edmund, the Black Adder, marries the Spanish Infanta, his father can rely on the kinship of the King of Spain when he attacks Hungary, for example.

Ibn Saud, who had over 100 children (53 sons and 54 daughters), may have had as many as 100 wives. Islam permits a man four wives, but also easy terms for divorce; apparently, Ibn Saud divorced whenever he needed a new wife. The fortunes of each wife's family rose or fell depending on whether she was married or divorced from the king; he'd sometimes remarry a divorced wife as well, other times he'd pass the ex-wife on to his relatives. He married outside his family -- particularly the daughters of the defeated rivals to his power. His sons did the same, but his daughters were married off to members of his own family. In other words, loyalty and dependency went one way -- the king took, but he gave nothing in return.

In the sad tale told by Maha, it's worth remembering that while she and her dowery stays within the family, her cousin-husband is free to also marry the girl of his dreams, if he can afford to support her.

Two rather interesting posts (with one link) from Xavier Basora over at Buscaraons. On the one hand, he suggests that Anglophones surrender the Latin words that were brought to England with William the Conqueror and his Normans (and never mind that they brought quite a few years of oppressive rule along with the words); then below he writes,
If there's one aspect of the Anglosphere and of Anglophone culture that I deeply loath is their insensitivity towards the Others' experiences. That because they didn't benefit from the Magna Carta and the other felicitous accidents of English history, the Other's political, cultural and economic evolution are all wrong and it's incumbent on Britain; now America to right their wrongs.
It's a little odd to call the Magna Carta a felicitous accident of English history. It's also worth noting that King Harold (the loser at the Battle of Hastings in 1066) was elected by the nobles to the throne; William believed he had been promised England by Harold's predecessor, although under English custom, succession wasn't something determined by the king, but rather by the choice of the nobles. William did away with all that, until the English pattern reasserted itself with a vengeance roughly 150 years later with Magna Carta.

This may have been a felicitous accident of history; had Harold not had to battle a few weeks before with King Harald of Norway (another claimant to the throne, whom Harold handily defeated), he might have defeated William, and English would not have been enriched with the Latin-derived words of the Normans. In other words, we might have missed out on that felicitous accident of history...

Note: Blogger's archives seem to be out of whack again; the post is dated March 6, and should be on Xavier's main page as of this writing.

Thursday, March 06, 2003
Aziz Poonawalla of Unmedia writes again, this time in response to this post, which started with another response of his to a prior post (Aziz has asked me to install comments; I'm considering it, although I barely have the time or energy to do more than one post a night, and I'd probably feel obligated to respond to comments), about something I quoted from Qutb. I always thought it was a fairly significant line -- after pages and pages arguing that Islam (well, his particular reading of Islam -- the Qur'an and those Hadiths he regards as authentic) is the only legitimate means of ordering society, that it answers all men's questions and imbues them with a spirit that raises their condition to a higher level, that allows them to live Godly lives, he addresses the problem of Islamic government and concludes
As 'Uthmann ibn 'Affan said: "Allah restrains man more by means of the ruler than by means of the Qur'an."
Qutb quotes this approvingly -- so much for the spirit of Islam; as long as the ruler has a whip and is willing to use it, everything is fine.

Aziz commnets,
I just have to point out that the Caliph Uthman quote about restraining man via rulers than the Qur'an is exactly the sort of thing to appeal to fanatics like Qutb. It's carte blanche for holier-than-thou repression. And you know how I feel about Caliphs 1-3...

In contrast, Ali ibn Talib AS said of the Qur'an:
"Go ahead with the remembrance of Allah for it is the best remembrance, and long for that which He has promised to the pious, for His promise is the most true promise. Tread the course of the Prophet for it is the most distinguished course. Follow the sunnah of the Prophet for it is the most right of all behaviours. Learn the Qur'an for it is the fairest of discourses and understand it thoroughly for it is the best blossoming of hearts. Seek cure with its light for it is the cure for hearts. Recite it beautifully for it is the most beautiful narration. Certainly, a scholar who acts not according to his knowledge is like the off-headed ignorant who does not find relief from his ignorance, but on the learned the plea of Allah is greater and grief more incumbent, and he is more blameworthy before Allah."
Nahj ul-Balagha, which can be read here.

I don't know about Wahabis, but I am much more "restrained" by awe of the Qualities of the book than I am by fear of my rulers.

I'm positive Qutb never understood why Persian Shi'a never rallied to his banner. Inscribed with Uthman's piety as it was...
For the uninitiated (and I'm not going to explain again who Qutb was -- well, okay, he was an Egyptian Islamist who wrote in the 1940s and 50s who some have called the "brain of bin Laden" because bin Laden seems to have borrowed his ideas wholesale from Qutb) (oh, and by the way, I count myself among the uninitiated for the most part) Ali ibn Talib was the fourth rightly guided Caliph; he was the nephew of the Prophet Muhammad and, after the Prophet himself, the second key figure in Islamic history for Shi'ites.

Aziz and I had speculated in an email exchange that some of Qutb's diatribe, Social Justice in Islam, was aimed at radical Shi'ites active in Iran around the time the book was written (I think the first publication was in 1949).

Meanwhile, Bin Gregory has a post (note: that link doesn't seem to work; the date of the post is March 5) with more information on Ibn Taymiyya. I should have mentioned that he attributed anthropomorphic qualities to Allah; some of my favorite passages in Averroes deal with this question (and I believe Averroes was by and large orthodox on the question). In any case, read Bin Gregory's post, and be sure to scroll down to see the adorable addition to his family -- congratulations to him, again.

I'd offer a cigar, but (and you'll note that I did call this a "miscellany") I'm not sure the Wahhabis would approve. I'm reading an excellent, slim little volume, A History of Saudi Arabia, by Madawi Al-Rasheed. She's a senior lecturer in social anthropology at King's College, University of London, and takes both a historical and anthropological approach to Saudi history. It's a short book, with a detached, scholarly tone. And nonetheless, it's eye-opening. Here's a passage on the Najd religious specialists ... well, wait, let me slow down -- the Najd was the region of Arabia from which both the Sa'ud family and Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab sprang in the 18th Century, also where Riyadh is. Al-Wahhab was the founder of the puritan Wahhabi sect (which some Muslims deny exists -- check the comments on Bin Gregory's March 5 post). Anyway, in 1902, Ibn Sa'ud, the founder of the modern Saudi dynasty, conquered Riyadh, and hooked up with the Wahhabi fanatics -- the mutawwa'a -- who had supported his ancestors:
It is not surprising that between 1902 and 1930 the mutawwa'a exercised their newly acquired authority with zeal and dedication. When Ibn Sa'ud arrived in Riyadh, he invested them with prestige as he showed them respect in return for their success in extracting recognition of his rule from rebellious groups that would not willingly accept his government. In return for 'disciplining' and 'punishing' the people of Arabia, they would be rewarded materially and symbolically. Traditionally, ritual specialists did not receive salaries from local amirs; the more fortunate among them made their livings as farmers and merchants while the rest lived off charitable donations and endowments from mosques. Others asked for money in return for religious services, judgment and advice, a practice with Muahammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab considered a kind of bribe, comprimising their impartiality ... Ibn Sa'ud enlisted them in the service of his domain as he employed them and paid their salaries in cash and kind. He thus transformed them into full-time religious specialists, loyal to him and dependent on his resources. In return, Ibn Sa'ud was guaranteed the political submission of the Arabian population under the guise of submission to God. The mutawwa'a were expected to 'flog all persons who were caught smoking, wearing fine adornment or procrastinating in their religious duties... They were also responsible for the collection of zakat for the central government"... Both the regime of moral discipline and the collection of zakat were important mechanisms behind the consolidation of Sa'udi authority in Arabia.
Interesting stuff. I'm afraid I don't have much of a point to make beyond that -- I did title this post "miscellany," after all. You get what you pay for.

Coherent thoughts will return when people least expect them -- over the weekend.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003
A glimpse into history
The New York Times has posted the obituary it ran in 1953 of Josef Stalin. It is in many ways a remarkable document -- well worth taking the time to read it. Don't take that as an endorsement of it as a great piece of journalism -- it has more holes in it than a piece of swiss cheese. I was particularly struck by this line, which my better nature would like to believe was written with a good deal of irony. In the context of the piece, however -- the line comes after noting the low opinion both Trotsky and Lenin had of Stalin's intellect -- it's hard to sustain that view.
But those who survived the purges hailed Stalin as a supreme genius.
Ah yes. Those for whom the boot hovered centimeters over the face were convinced of the wearer's genius.

For the contemporary reaction, Cinderella Bloggerfeller has much more.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003
Bizarre love potion
Sorry, nothing too involved tonight. Just a bizarre offer I got via email, the text of which reads:
Love Spells, charms, and potions have been dated as far back as 2400-1900 B.C. to the likes of the Egyptians, Persians, and Chinese. Nearer to our time, Celtic, Gypsy and Latin Magic.

Our powerful Love Potion is imported and the ingredients cannot be duplicated only nine drops creates massive love results, so be careful!

Real Love Majic will encourage what should naturally already be, but Love Potion will override the free will of another individual.

Love Magic has many forms and has many purposes: to find love, to keep love, to rid one of unwanted love, assure faithfulness.

The goal, of Love Potion is to help you control the one you love by making them love you back, unable to live without you, and faithful to only You!
The subject line of the email read "How to control the one you love." I was going to analyze some of the lines (citing history as an authority, the "imported" ingredients, etc. etc.), but the text puts me in too much of a bad mood to write anymore. Are there really people who would buy this? I know, I know -- of course there are...

Monday, March 03, 2003
Assimilation and enrichment
Aziz Poonawalla of Unmedia writes,
Have you seen the Empire of Faith PBS series? In it, it made the point that Islam was conquered by the Mongols, but ultimately the Mongols were conquered themselves, by becoming part of Islam's fabric. The series makes the cogent observation that the Mongols represented an infusion into Islam of fresh ideological blood and passion and this greatly enriched the sphere of Islamic culture. It's a beautifully insightful observation.
I haven't seen the series, although I wanted to watch it; about the only TV I see these days are Spongebob Squarepants, the Wiggles, and old Warner Brothers cartoons on Saturday mornings (yes, in case you were wondering, we have a four-year-old in the house). About all I can add to Aziz's comment is that for Qutb, such enrichment was anathema.

I've wondered about Qutb's hostility to non-Arab Muslims, and can offer a few possible explanations. First, he was writing in the late 1940s through the 1950s, at a time when the Pan-Arab movement was at its apex. He might have been trying, through his close identification of Islamic purity with Arab ethnicity, to tap into Pan-Arabism. Secondly, the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist within Qutb's lifetime; Turks (against whom Qutb seems to have a special animus) embarked on their democratic, secular experiment. Qutb implicitly (although not explicitly) rejects liberal democracy as being incompatible with Islam; he notes approvingly, at one point,
As 'Uthmann ibn 'Affan said: "Allah restrains man more by means of the ruler than by means of the Qur'an."
Thirdly, Qutb argues, as did Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (who gave his name to Wahhabism) that Islam was corrupted with the death of the fourth Caliph, and only a return to the type of Islam as he imagines it of the 7th Century would restore it to its pure form. At that point (I may be wrong about some details here, but bear with me -- the historical atlas is not handy), the Ummah was largely Arab and Persian. I have noticed that while Qutb mentions Indonesians, Turks, Circassians, Mongols, and a host of other peoples, the word "Persian" or "Iranian" never occurs in his text. I think a long time ago, in an email exchange with Aziz, I speculated that Qutb's praise of Ali might have been a recognition on his part that there were like-minded Shi'ite fundamentalists in Iran who might embrace his cause -- hence, his exemption of Persians from those who "were opposed to the spirit of Islam," in Qutb's memorable phrase.

Sunday, March 02, 2003
Somehow, I managed to omit the word "thanks" below to both Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk and Eve Tushnet, so the entry read "Housekeeping ... to Judith and Eve..." Oops. Sorry about that, and again, a hardy thanks for the kind words.

I've also added Gene Expression and Geitner Simmons' Regions of Mind to the Favorites list, which has grown to, well, to lengthy lengths. One of these days I should at the very least alphabetize it.

I should also note that the always enjoyable Glenn Frazier is back posting after a hiatus; I meant to lament that he seemed to have gone offline, but he returned before I had the chance.