An ideofact is an artifact imbued with meanings other than its technical function.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Not quite the penultimate post
I'm taking tonight off to work on the new site; I'll be back here over the weekend with some updates and perhaps the odd item or two, then it's off to the new, improved (well, except for the quality of the writer himself) ideofact.
Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Reflections on Friends of the Iranian Revolution
This is a rather grandiose title for the mundane thoughts that will folllow -- my apologies to Burke, and Burkeans.
I did not have a great deal of time to read blogs today, but I did my best to check in on a few as the day progressed; apparently the revolution did not occur as scheduled. That was to be expected.
In the wake of Sept. 11, we rallied, first, around ourselves -- around the victims, around the selfless firefighters who responded to the call, around those airline passengers of Flight 93, who struck the first blow against tyranny. It seems to me to be particularly meaningful that the first blow against the Islamicists was struck not by our government, but by people not that different from us.
In the first weeks, we read of the ideology -- if barbarism can be graced by such a word -- of the Taliban and al Qaeda. It is a hackneyed phrase, but people did ask, "Why do they hate us?" -- at least, after a fashion. Not to find fault with ourselves (we do that 365 days a year), but rather to stare into the petri dish and discern what kind of scum was growing there. There followed the rallying around the troops -- the men and women who liberated first Afghanistan and then Iraq. I know a little bit about military history; I suspect both campaigns will be studied, for different reasons, for years.
In the smiling faces greeting U.S. troops in Kabul, in the Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy of Iraq, we began to recognize something else -- the common aspiration for liberty that the great mass of humanity shares. Today I read a fair number of posts in which people approvingly quoted the words of Iranians, expressed their hopes for a people distant from us, separated by oceans and centuries of circumstance and, from most of us, by religious creed -- and rallied around them. I think this is a healthy thing.
A few caveats are in order. The number of revolutions that, ten years out, led to liberalization are but a small percentage of the total. The plans for a Committee of Public Safety, for a new terror, may already be hatching in someone's mind. An Iranian Robespierre or a Bonaparte might already be waiting in the wings. Revolutions tend to become more radical as they go on--witness France and Russia--and end in some form of dictatorship. Obviously, I have no special insight into conditions in Iran, and perhaps my worries are misplaced. I certainly hope so.
One final note: I'm saddened that Glenn Frazier isn't around blogging this (don't bother clicking on the link). He maintained an excellent Iranian Liberty Index (I think that was the name) that was worth checking on a daily basis. Here, incidentally, is the Tehran Times story on the cancellation of the protests (apparently, not everyone got the word). It's interesting that the Tehran Times does not note what the students were demonstrating against...
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
Sayyid Qutb's work, Social Justice in Islam, ends with a brief chapter translated as Parting of the Ways. Qutb begins by saying that the struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States is in fact not a struggle at all, since the United States (and Western Europe) will inevitably turn to communism:
No essential difference is to be found between the American and Russian philosophies, though some differences do exist in the economic and social circumstances. What keeps the ordinary American from becoming a communist is not a philosophy of life that rejects any materialistic explanation of the universe, of life, and of history; rather it is the fact that the now has the opportunity of becoming rich and the fact that worker's wages are high. But when American capitalism reaches the end of its tether, when the restraints of monopolies are tightened, when the ordinary man sees that he has no longer the opportunity of himself becoming a capitalist, when wages drop becaue of the tightening of monopoly control or for any other reason, then the American worker is going to turn right over to communism. For, he will not have the support of any stronger philosophy of life than the materialistic, nor will he have the support of any spiritual faith or moral objective.Obviously, Qutb wasn't alone in believing the crackpot economics of Marx would inevitably triumph over the real economics of Adam Smith; that the political system forged by thugs like Lenin and Stalin would outlast that produced by Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Hamilton; that slavery was a better bet than freedom.
For Qutb, then, the only question is, who will lead the vast, global prisonhouse of humanity: a Marxist jailer or an Islamicist jailer?
Monday, July 07, 2003
Note: For previous posts in this series, click here and follow the link. And now the boilerplate: Sayyid Qutb was an Egyptian Islamist, an early theoretician for the Muslim Brotherhood, and has been described by some as the brains of bin Laden. He died in 1966 in an Egyptian prison. This is an ongoing (and soon ending!) series of posts on Qutb's work, Social Justice in Islam.
In the last third or so of Qutb's eighth chapter, the title of which is translated as Present State & Prospects of Islam, he sets forth a blueprint for the perfect Islamic state. I have noted in previous posts two preconditions, the first being a strong head of state, the second being control of the educational system to prevent Western (or for that matter non-Islamic Eastern) ideas from corrupting Qutb's version of pure Islam. Or, as he puts it,
No renaissance of Islamic life can be effected purely by law or statute, or by the establishment of a social system on the basis of the Islamic philosophy. Such a step is only one of the two pillars on which Islam must always stand in its construction of life. The other is the production of a state of mind imbued with the Islamic theory of life, to act as an inner motivation for establishing this form of life and to give coherence to all the social, religious, and civil legislation.Just an aside, but I wonder why it is that each system that promises to fulfill all the needs of all mankind is invariably so fragile that it cannot tolerate the presence of a competing idea.
Qutb goes through a fairly lengthy section explaining the two types of legislation that Islam permits -- essentially, laws that make people do things they might not want to do (like pay taxes, for example) and laws that prevent people from doing things they might or do want to do (disagreeing with Qutb is probably tops on his list, but let's pick drinking alcohol). Then he proposes a series of laws for his Islamic Utopia, beginning with the Zakat.
The Zakat is a tax levied on the faithful to provide a social safety net; the translation may be at fault, but Qutb says it is levied on wealth, not income, although the passage of the Qur'an he cites (and again, this too may be a matter of translation) seems to suggest that income should be taxed. Qutb lays out some figures in Egyptian pounds that would trigger higher levels of taxation, suggesting a progressive scheme. He then notes that the Zakat might not be sufficient for providing public revenues, and that the early Muslims -- the Salafi, with which Qutb identifies his ideal brand of Islam -- also assumed that a portion of their armies' plunder would also end up in the treasury (a fifth) to aid the poor. Qutb concedes that plunder might not be a reliable source of revenue (it's interesting to note that he castigates the West for colonialism, yet his ideal society assumed a steady source of plunder to prop it up). Of course, earlier, he had defined religious freedom as the right of Muslim armies to eliminate governments not run by Muslims, so that there would be no impediment to the population converting to Islam -- it seems that enacting religious freedom would provide a fairly large potential revenue stream -- but I'll let that pass. Qutb's rejection of plunder is actually one of the few times he concedes that perhaps Islamic practice needs a bit of updating from the seventh and eighth centuries.
Next, Qutb says the ruler may legislate "the mutual responsibility of society." What he means by this is that the ruler is free to set wage and price controls, and confiscate the property of the wealthy and redistribute it to the poor. In other words, no free market, and no private property.
He next says the ruler may legislate general taxation, making everyone responsible, according to his ability to pay, for the state's upkeep -- public works, defense, and so on. He tellingly writes,
All these things are communal duties that must be met and satisfied just as much as the needs of the army; they must be preserved as strongly as frontiers and defense posts must be guarded. This is particularly true today when wars make demands on all the resources and services of the bellligerent nations. In modern war everyone may be said to be in the army, and thus should be capable of taking responsibility in time of peace.I say telling, because I suspect the analogy of peacetime taxation to the demands of total war on a population is not casually made. Qutb believes the ideal Islamic ruler should keep his population on a wartime footing at all times.
Next, Qutb says natural resources should be nationalized. He means more than mineral wealth, apparently, since he spends a few sentences discussing food prices. He argues that the only alternative to nationalization is private monopoly.
His next law, or set of laws, returns to the theme of eliminating poverty by eliminating wealth.
Qutb then says the state may interfere with the wills of property owners, throwing out the wishes of the deceased in favor of its own priorities.
Next, Qutb turns to usury. He seems to recognize that capital is necessary to expand businesses, but he argues for a system in which lending money for interest would be illegal, which would force the wealthy (and anyone else with money) to invest directly in the shares of prospective businesses. Qutb seems not to particularly worry whether businesses will fail, and whether shareholders will lose their entire investment.
He ends the passage with three fairly obvious laws -- outlawing gambling, alcohol and prostitution.
So in Qutb's version of the ideal Islamic society, the ruler would have absolute authority over education and legislation, over property and natural resources, who would preside over a society permanently on a war footing, even at times of peace. The legislation is dressed up with Islamic elements, but essentially what Qutb is arguing for is a fascist or totalitarian state after the 1920s and 1930s European model.
Sunday, July 06, 2003
Thanks to Judith Weiss over at Kesher Talk for her kind words. I feel like I've been floundering of late, and now I'm entering what will probably be the busiest month of the year for me, meaning that blogging will probably be reduced to a series of commas and the occasional recipe for tuna salad. (That joke is stolen from a Woody Allen short story -- to be honest, I still like Allen's movies. Perhaps that's because I've never looked to the personal lives of artists for moral instruction.)
For those looking for information on the Mongols (a subject about which I know very little -- I know very little about a great deal of things) may I recommend John Emerson's writings on the subject. I've been meaning to get a permalink up to him -- perhaps I will when I (if I ever have time to) move into the new site.