September 30, 2003

A dancer in Paris

I've always had a fondness for a Paris I imagine, the Paris of Josephine Baker and F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Carlos Williams (even Hemingway's dull prose seems to have marginally improved while he lived in Paris). There are too many names one could throw out -- Picasso and Chagall, Dali and Bunuel come to mind -- of foreign artists (and of course artistes) plying their trade in the French capital. Which is not to say that I have no appreciation for the French themselves, but my pantheon is decidedly eclectic -- Cocteau, Radiguet, Soupault, to name a few. I am vaguely hostile to orthodoxy, and all the -isms and their avatars leave me rather cold. Manifestoes are not poetry, but rather its impediment. Reading the likes of Andre Breton, I can't help thinking that he's a magician with no rabbit to pull out of his hat. After all the elaborate gestures suggesting the unraveling of a great mystery of the unconcious, he pulled (not even the Communist Manifesto) the speeches of Stalin out of his hat. Charming fellow, Breton. He and his clique used to call Cocteau's elderly mother in the middle of the night to tell her that her son had been killed in an automobile accident, or burned to death in a fire, or the like. For his part, Cocteau detested the cult of novelty that obsessed art critics. "We no longer speak of disciples," he wrote, "but of thieves." A later dogmatic, Sartre, once said that in his opinion, Cocteau had no ideas at all. I think Cocteau would have regarded that as a compliment.

Sorry for the lengthy digression to what is, after all, a very short post, but in some ways it seems vaguely appropriate -- the shock of tradition, the novelty of antiquity. Paging through Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History tonight, I came across what appears to be a photo caption to an image of a rather arresting woman wearing a costume that shows off her legs to great effect:

KURDISTAN PRINCESS REVEALS HAREM DANCES!

Princess Leila, daughter of the last Emir of Kurdistan, who was inititiated into the sacred dances of the harem, is revealing their mysteries and is now dancing publicly in a Paris theatre.

I haven't been able to find the photo of her online, but there's an excerpt from the book and another photo (also in the book) reproduced here. (This other photo doesn't do the princess, Leila Bedirkhan, justice.) According to the brief biography on this site, she was born in Istanbul in 1908, and died in Paris in 1986. Beyond that, I wasn't able to learn much about the Kurdistan princess.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:46 PM | Comments (2)

September 29, 2003

Mongols ...

...have returned to Iraq. Glenn Frazier has the details.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)

Cult of Angels?

A while back, I linked to a paper on Kurdish religions that mentioned the work of Mehrad Izady, who argued that the indigenous sects -- he called them "the cult of angels" -- were more ancient then Islam, Christianity or Judaism, and had their origins in the beliefs of the Medes (who were written about by Xenophon, and from whom the Kurds may have descended). The paper I quoted says,

"The cult," Izady writes, "is a genuinely universal religion. It views all other religions as legitimate manifestations of the same original idea of human faith in the [Universal] Spirit...Thus, a believer in the Cult has little difficulty being associated with Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, or any other religion, as to him these are all just other versions of the old idea (Izady 138)." There seems to be a close relationship between Islam and the Cult, but it also seems evident that the Cult is neither a part of nor even an offshoot of Islam, as it predates Islam. Granted, the cult does contain some characteristics of Islam. However, the cult is very widespread, and absorbs aspects of the many religions that it comes in contact with and has come in contact with.

I don't have the expertise to comment on Izady's claim either way. The idea of the ancient beliefs surviving to the present appeals to me aesthetically, but perhaps I should have treated Izady a bit more skeptically. I've been reading the essays collected in Kurdish Culture and Identity, edited by Philip Kreyenbroek and Christine Allison, and came across a challenge to Izady's thesis in a footnote to a piece by Ziba Mir-Hosseini on the Ahl-e Haqq (here is a site devoted to them, which seems to offer a bare bones introduction):

The most notable case is that of Izady (1992) who, in his eagerness to distance the Ahl-e Haqq from Islam and to give it a purely Kurdish pedigree, asserts that the sect is a denomination of a religion of great antiquity which he calls 'the Cult of Angels.' This 'Cult,' he sates, is 'fundamentally a non-Semitic religion, with an Aryan superstructure overlaying a religious foundation indigenous to the Zagros. To identify the Cult or any of its denominations as Islamic is simply a mistake born of a lack of knowledge of the religion, which pre-dates Islam by millennia.' He fails, however, to produce any evidence at all in support of his theory, and some of his assertions can only be called preposterous. He states, for example, that 'Hak or Haq' is a Kurdish word meaning 'universal Spirit', which has no connection with the Arabic Haqq; even more astonishingly, he claims that the founder of the Babi religion, which later evolved into Baha'ism, was among the three avatars of the 'Cult' in this century (Izady 1992: 137).

As I said, I'm in no position to judge -- especially since I've been unable to get my hands on a copy of Izady's work. Yet the positive case Mir-Hosseini makes, that the sect borrows elements from both Sufism and Shi'ism, seems rather compelling.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:42 PM | Comments (4)

September 28, 2003

Sufism & Adult...er...

Came across this on Arab News -- seems 16 people were arrested in Saudi Arabia for practicing and proselytizing Sufism. The story goes on to note that some makers of adult entertainment were rounded up as well, and video equipment was seized ... if you wanted to make blue films, would you choose to do so in Saudi Arabia?

Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been wiped out -- had to pull an all-nighter Thursday to meet a deadline for actual work, and it took a lot more out of me than I thought it would. More tomorrow...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:58 PM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2003

Bittersweet

I don't often write about baseball (although I still stand by my plan to improve the game), but among spectator sports, it's still my first and only love. The Phillies, my favorite team, have for the second time in three seasons stayed in the hunt until the final week of the season, only to come up short. I have a bit of the sick feeling that comes from knowing that the 162 game marathon ultimately was in vain, but truth be told, I'll take a season like this over one of the many I've lived through in which the Phils are out of it by May 1.

I remember talking to a fellow fan, a near contemporary, about how sweet it was to grow up rooting for the Phillies in the 1970s. Nearly every year, discernible improvement -- from 1973's last place finish, to 1976's division title, to 1980's World Series Championship (the only one in the franchises long and mostly futile history). Those were the teams of Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Bob Boone, current manager Larry Bowa, Gary Maddux, Bake McBride, Greg Luzinski and, eventually, Pete Rose. We both agreed that our childhoods had spoiled us -- we got used to thinking that every summer there'd be a pennant race, a shot in the postseason, even the occasional World Series. I loved the 1993 team -- Kruk, Dykstra, Mitch Williams, Schilling, et al -- but those 70s teams will always be, to me, the Phillies.

In 1975, the year of the Big Red Machine, the Phils went down to the wire in the National League East with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I remember they were eliminated with just a few games to go. A reporter asked the manager, the brilliant Danny Ozark, how he felt about being mathematically eliminated. "Don't count us out yet," he reportedly responded (okay, maybe he wasn't all that brilliant). But in a way, he was right. Disappointed as I am tonight, I'm not willing to count the Phillies out yet.

There's always next year...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:11 PM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2003

Steyn on Riefenstahl

Read it while you can: Mark Steyn's dissection of the late Leni Reifenstahl, the technically brilliant film maker who made Triumph of the Will.:

Her directing career died with the Third Reich. Had she been worse at making the Nazis look good, her insistence that she was no more than a hired hand might have been accepted. Instead, she found herself too toxic to get any project off the ground, until finally, at the age of 100, she got to release one last film, a simple undersea documentary. “Art is my life and I was deprived of it,” said Leni Riefenstahl. Tough. Working in the German film industry, she saw that happen early on to innumerable Jewish film-makers. She was neither one of that select group of Nazi fanatics committed to mass murder, nor merely of that vast contemptible majority of Germans too indifferent to evil to object to it. Whatever her disclaimers, she made evil look better than it had any right to: a cautionary tale in the art of film.

Absolutely. Read the whole thing.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:35 PM | Comments (3)

Not so strange bedfellows

I've been toying with a lengthy -- or perhaps a series of lengthy -- posts on the Kurds (their history, origins, culture, etc.), but haven't gotten around to it. But I found this story, which seems consistent with much else that I've read of late, worth noting, particularly this section:

Furthermore, regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict, Kurds must remain neutral in this issue and not intervene in any way. If Israeli donors are interested in investing in Kurdistan, they should be allowed and welcomed to do so just like any other nation. Notwithstanding this, Kurds have always supported an independent Palestinian state....

...the potential is there for Israel and the Kurds to have a much closer relationship especially when considering the often hostile attitude of the neighbouring countries in the region both to Israel and to the Kurds. It would be good common sense for the two nations to support each other and to forge an alliance together.

The whole thing is of interest.


Posted by Ideofact at 01:16 AM | Comments (3)

September 23, 2003

Odyssey

I've been reading The Lost Moon, which was the original title of Apollo 13, the account by mission commander James Lovell and science writer Jeffrey Kluger of NASA's most successful failure. Although it's the first time I've read Lovell and Kluger's work, it's not the first book I've read on the subject -- Thirteen: The Apollo Flight That Failed by Henry S.F. Cooper Jr. is a quick paced account of the technological challenges faced by mission control and the ingenuity, teamwork and guts that went into solving them:

The necessity for all these new and untried maneuvers meant that the flight controllers couldn't borrow much from the checklists of previous missions -- something they normally did... Doing three months work in under as many days meant they had to take shortcuts they had never thought possible. Afterward, David Reed, the Lead FIDO, said, "When you take a lot of time, you get the most conservative consensus. But here we shaved off the conservatism to give some fast decisions, and we stuck with them. We found out what we could do when the chips were down. Often, the only simulators we had were our minds -- and damn if they didn't work!"

I like reading about mission control -- if you were a kid who followed the moon shots on television in the late 60s and early 70s (as I was) you probably spent more time staring at the backs of the heads of the Mission Control folks than you did looking at pictures of men on the moon. And, for whatever reason, Apollo 13 is the moon launch I remember best -- at least the emotions of it, the up-down feeling. No sooner had one crisis passed than Walter Cronkite or ABC radio news or some such would be on the air broadcasting the latest trouble. I remember my father (who, like me, wasn't particularly scientifically inclined) explaining to me what the problems were as the recovery efforts progressed, and, as each one was solved, exulting over the solution, only to tell me--the next morning, the next afternoon--of the new problem or problems that had cropped up. I watched the splashdown live on television -- at home, so it must have been spring break or a day off.

While the book Thirteen brought back many of those memories, reading Lovell and Kluger's book brings out a different perspective. Unless I'm imagining things, I keep sensing a Homeric quality to the work -- Lovell as Odysseus, desparate to return home; his wife (who's depicted frequently in the work) dealing with a house filled, not with suitors but with well wishers (and, of course, the press, whom she rebuffs rather early on); the men in mission control aping the gods and demigods who are trying to get the ship home; and the ship itself, part of which was called the Odyssey.

It's been a long time since I read a translation of the Odyssey, but I can't help wondering how closely the structure of the two very different works compares.

Incidentally, I've also been enjoying the photographs assembled in Full Moon...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2003

He's back

Douglas Turnbull's Beauty of Gray is back after a long hiatus. I'll update the blogroll momentarily...Good to see him back.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:55 PM | Comments (0)

After the storm

Our power cut out last night around 12:50 a.m., and came back some time around 1 p.m. The telephone service was uninterrupted -- I wonder if electric utilities could learn something from them. Cable, meanwhile, wasn't restored until some time after 4 o'clock. My neighbor tells me she had satellite up until she went to bet around 12:30.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

Well...

...our electricity has flickered a couple of times now. The cable is out, so I've got the radio on. Speaking of cable...

Our service provider is Comcast, which has been running commercials lately mocking those poor fools who rely on antiquated satellite dishes for their signals. A series of folks complain about how, whenever it was windy, they'd lose the signal, or when it rained, they'd lose the signal, etc. etc. Now, these are extreme conditions (although I note that the electric and phone are still working, while cable is out), but I swear -- anytime it rains heavily, we lose the cable television. My neighbors have a satellite dish, and I noticed that their lights were still on, I'm going to ask them tomorrow how they faired with the dish.

The wind is still heavy, but there's a complete absence of rain as of about five minutes ago...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:28 AM | Comments (2)

September 18, 2003

Izetbegovic ill

And, from what I hear from my Bosnian sources, probably terminally so. Here's an account from Reuters.

There's also the sad news of the work at a mass grave in eastern Bosnia:

Forensic scientists say they have discovered the remains of almost 500 people in a mass grave in eastern Bosnia, confirming their belief that it is the largest site so far unearthed.

More than 350 complete bodies have been exhumed from the Crni Vrh (Black Peak) grave and experts believe about 100 more skeletons will be dug up.

Most of the victims are thought to have been Muslims from the nearby town of Zvornik killed when Bosnian Serbs overran the area during the 1992-95 war.

As I read the article, I was reminded of something I read the other day on FrontPage Magazine, a review of a book by Robert Spencer entitled Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Continues to Threaten America and the West

. The reviewer lists some of the highlights of the work, including this one:

Exposing the corrosive hagiography of both (Medieval) Muslim Spain and the 500 years of Islamic rule in the Balkans. Spencer’s succinct review of the actual plight of those indigenous Christians and Jews conquered by jihad campaigns in each region shatters the utopian myth of “enlightened” Muslim rule under Shari’a-imposed dhimmitude. This contextualizes the recent explosion of sectarian violence in the former Yugoslavia, incited in no small measure, by the writings of Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, who (in his “The Islamic Declaration”) openly declared his desire to reimpose the Shari’a. This was a simply horrifying prospect for Serbs based on their painful 500-year legacy of dhimmitude, including nearly 300 years of being subjected to the cruel devshirme system- a recurrent levy of adolescent Christian males, removed from their homes, forcibly converted to Islam, and raised as Turkish military slaves.

I'm no big fan of the 1970 Islamic Declaration for a number of reasons, but I've read the thing (including the version reissued in 1990) and can say that nowhere does Izetbegovic express a desire to reimpose the Shari'a on the Balkans. An exact quote:

Muslim minorities within a non-Islamic community, provided they are guaranteed freedom to practise their religion, to live and develop normally, are loyal and must fulfil all their commitments to that community, except those which harm Islam and Muslims.

The except bothers me. Still, it's a far cry from a call to impose the Shari'a in the Balkans, where Muslims did not constitute a majority (and, if I'm not mistaken, were not even a plurality).

The story about the mass grave concludes this way:

The remains of 17,000 people have so far been found in mass graves in Bosnia. The fate of more than 16,000 is still unknown.

The experts have not yet reached the bottom of the grave, which measures 40 metres by five metres.

Among their discoveries were the remains of about 10 children aged between one and 12, buried in a corner of the grave with women believed to have been their mothers.

They included a child shot in the head and another with a bullet lodged in its spine.

Yes, they had to shoot children because of something written in 1970.


Posted by Ideofact at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)

Winds...

...are pretty incredible right now, but the rain is light. In about two hours it supposed to be at its worst. The power's still on (knock wood). And for some reason, the cat keeps on insisting he wants to go out...

Posted by Ideofact at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2003

Stormy Weather

Let's see... flashlights, check. Candles, check. Plenty of food, including stuff that doesn't need to be refrigerated. Water, check. Radio, check. Patio furniture stowed, check. Storm windows in place, check. First aid kit, check. Better-than-nothing instant coffee in case the electricity goes out and I can't use the space age coffee-maker... DOH!

I was on my way to the car when I remembered the bodum I used to use in my bachelor days -- there it was, in the back of one of the kitchen cabinets, ready and willing to be pressed into service.

Isabel is on her way, and while I'm certainly hoping it's not bad in the D.C. area (or anywhere else, for that matter), it never hurts to plan for the worst. The laptop is charging now; unfortunately, I'll have to save the batteries not for blogging, but to entertain the soon-to-be five-year-old in case we lose power altogether (it can play DVDs). I imagine he'll need the Pink Panther, Spongebob and Scooby Doo more than I'll need to check the web. If we have power tomorrow night, I'll post, but I'm not sure we will.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:57 PM | Comments (1)

September 16, 2003

Pushing the envelope

I've liked Gregg Easterbrook's writings for some time, and I've been enjoying his new, unnamed blog on The New Republic site. So I was not particularly surprised when I read this paragraph, at the end of an entry on the Biosphere:

It seems certain that as the space shuttle debate continues, some prominent person will advocate the bold new adventure of a trip to Mars. When someone advocates that, this blog will demolish the idea in detail. Here's a quick preview. Last week the Wall Street Journal ran a letter to the editor blithely asserting that colonization of Mars could be accomplished "easily and cheaply." The Russian rocket manufacturer Energia recently estimated that the hardware for a stripped-down manned mission to Mars would weigh a minimum of 600 tons in low-earth orbit. At current space shuttle prices, it costs $15 billion to place 600 tons in low-earth orbit. That's just the initial launch cost for a stripped-down high-risk flight with a couple of people--spaceship and supplies are extra.

Not surprised, but disappointed nonetheless. First, I think one is always on the losing side of the ledger when betting against human ingenuity, although it's a bet many otherwise perfectly sensible people make. In 1899 (that's not a typo -- 1899), the head of the U.S. Patent Office, one Charles Duell, confidently asserted that,

Everything that can be invented has been invented.

In 1920, no less then the New York Times editorialized that Robert Goddard, the American father of rocketry, knew less about physics than the average high school student. There are, of course, many other examples of this kind of certainty.

I think it's largely a question of will and priorities. We went from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo to the moon to the Shuttle in a span of two decades, and all those craft were designed in the age before laptop computers.

Which brings me to the reasons to do it: going to Mars is essentially a technological problem, and anything that advances our technical capabilities is an unqualified benefit. The sheer difficulty of the endeavor would require -- just as it did in the Apollo program -- the development of materials and techniques that at present are in their infancy or as yet unimagined. No to mention, of course, the jobs that should an effort would create.

I also found this commentary, on developing a vision for NASA, worth reading.

Addendum: In fairness to Easterbrook, there's nothing he says that's quite like Duell's statement or the idiocy of the Times' attack on Goddard. But his assumptions seem to flow from the notion that the only way to get to Mars is with a rocket, and that the only way to get it into space is with the space shuttle. I'd argue for a replacement for the Shuttle, and a parallel effort to develop a craft that can go from earth's orbit to Mars.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:55 PM | Comments (2)

Update

I'm still reading Farid Esack's Qur'an: A Short Introduction. Well, that's not entirely true -- I'd put it aside for a month or two and read other things. But I got back to it today, and it's given me much food for thought, and I'll try to start cobbling together some of that thought in future posts. Unfortunately, I'm not up to it tonight. I spent half the day getting ready for the hurricane -- cleaning gutters, putting away patio furniture, and generally battening down the hatches -- so intellectual work is a little beyond my powers right now (although not enough to prevent me from doing at least one less intellectually challenging post tonight...) Update: Yes, just one...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:13 PM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2003

Stagnation

I enjoy turning the pages of Alija Izetbegovic's Notes from Prison, 1983-1988, a book with much sense in it. In the section Thoughts on Islam, he writes,

The dogma of absolute obedience to the ruler led gradually, through a specific cause-consequence sequence, to the decline of the very civilization of Islam.

This decline is a preoccupation of Izetbegovic's, and he's not shy in assigning blame:

So far we have been talking about damages and defeats inflicted on us by others. The time has come to start talking about the damages and defeats that we inflict on ourselves. That will be the beginning of our maturity.

And later...

When I think about the situation of Muslims throughout the world, my first question always reads: Do we have the destiny that we deserve, and are others to blame for our situation and defeats? And if we are to blame -- and I believe so -- what did we miss doing, but should have done, or what did we do, yet should not have? For me, these are two unavoidable questions regarding our unenviable situation.

Elsewhere, Izetbegovic hints at answers to these unavoidable questions.

Around the tenth and eleventh centuries A.D., Islamic theology split to assume two different aspects: (1) as the dogmatic and formally rational theology of kalam and (2) as a speculative theology of sufism. Later on, theology will monopolize the entire area of metaphysics and even of cosmogony, denying the right to free research of the cosmos and nature. This way of thinking condemned Islam to scientific and political stagnation.

And later...

A characteristic symptom of the stagnation of Islamic thought was the habit of writing "comments on comments," while the original works that were subject to the comments had sunk almost completely into oblivion. Medressas were reduced to four theological subjects: hadith, fikh, kalam (theology) and tesfir. The Qur'anic advice to "observe the sky" was completely forgotten, as noticed by the Turkish writer Katib Kelebi (seventeenth century) in his book The Equilibrium of the Truth. Even the comments were often reduced to superficial word games, verbal debates and grammatical pedantry. Some books on Arab syntax, known as Kafiya, were given mystical interpretation by some authors (?!). Mysticism infiltrated everything. Another phenomenon: learning by heart and endless memorizing, repetition instead of the search for knowledge. All these were the symptons or causes of overall stagnation.

The Notes from Prison cover many subjects -- in the index, under the letter "M," we find Macbeth, Maeterlinck, Moses Maimonides, Malcolm X, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Mayan culture, Henry Miller, Czeslaw Milosz and Octave Mirbeau, among others. There are pithy lines, like this one,

Socialism announced the withering away of the state. But what is actually happening? Instead of the state, the economy is withering away. The state, on the contrary, is growing fat and strong.

He, at least, shows few signs of stagnation...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:54 PM | Comments (2)

September 14, 2003

Democracy & Islam

Maryam of A Dervish's Dua has an post on pluralistic democracy in Islam. She writes

I find it noteworthy that the Prophet did not nominate a successor (leaving aside minority Shi'i claims for the moment). For me, this signals that Islam does not endorse a *specific* style of governance, be it tribal, dynastic, dictatorial, democratic etc. Rather the Qur'an and the sunnah contain within them both the underlying seeds for an Islamic ethic, *and* specific instructions for time-contextual problems. While as Muslims we should be aiming for achieving a society in which the underlying ethic is manifested, the reality is that human beings are fallible and require specific solutions to specific time-bound problems. In other words, the Qur'an addresses (not endorses) the reality of a tribal society with a patriarchal head but also provides movement towards more sophisticated forms of governance.

I can hear dim echoes of Tom Paine's work Common Sense, in which that inveterate atheist attacked the institution of monarchy by writing,

As the exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty, as declared by Gideon and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings. All anti-monarchial parts of scripture have been very smoothly glossed over in monarchial governments, but they undoubtedly merit the attention of countries which have their governments yet to form. 'Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's' is the scriptural doctrine of courts, yet it is no support of monarchial government, for the jews at that time were without a king, and in a state of vassalage to the Romans.

Near three thousand years passed away from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. Till then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases, where the Almighty interposed) was a kind of republic administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lords of Hosts. And when a man seriously reflects on the idolatrous homage which is paid to the persons of Kings, he need not wonder, that the Almighty, ever jealous of his honor, should disapprove of a form of government which so impiously invades the prerogative of heaven.

I've read the Old Testament, and I'm not sure the books of Judges would be Paine's cup of tea as far as governance is concerned, but the argument was nevertheless an important one (and it's worth noting that Common Sense sold something like 100,000 copies within a year of its release -- not a bad print run at all).

Alija Izetbegovic made a similar argument in his Islamic Declaration (an uneven and in many places disappointing document, to be sure, and not quite Paine either):

Apart from affairs of property, Islam does not recognize any principle of inheritance, nor any power with absolute prerogative. To recognize the absolute power of Allah means an absolute denial of any other almighty power (Qu'ran, 7-3, 12-40). "Any submission of a creature which includes a lack of submission to the Creator is forbidden." (Muhammad, peace be upon him). In the history of the first, and perhaps only authentic Islamic order -- at the time of the first four Caliphs -- three key aspects of the republican principle of government may be seen, (1) an elective head of state, (2) the responsibility of the head of state towards the people and (3) the obligation of both to work on public affairs and social matters. The latter is explicitly supported by the Qu'ran (3-159, 42-38). The first four rulers in Islamic history were neither kings nor emporers. They were chosen by the people. The inherited caliphate was an abandonment of the electoral principle, a clearly defined Islamic political institution.

This seems to me to be a good starting point for arguing that representative democracy is not incompatible with, but rather a requirement of, Islam.


Posted by Ideofact at 11:42 PM | Comments (7)

September 12, 2003

Extra! Extra!

Kurdish Media News has translated a Turkish article (and not very smoothly, I'm afraid, but we can overlook that) on the launch of the first ever Kurdish Yezedi newspaper, published in Mosul, in northern Iraq. (I wrote about Yezedis here before.)

Kaniya Spi, which began publication two months ago in Mosul, is aimed at all the Kurds living in Mosul and Iraq. Kaniya Spi, which has just published its third issue, is currently published entirely in Arabic. The circulation of the eight-page newspaper is 2,500. General Editor Salim Bashir Sadiq al-Reshdani, noting that the Yezidi culture had been threatened with disappearing entirely under the realm of Saddam Husayn, said that "Our goal is to make Yezidi history, culture, and philosophy, which is one of the oldest beliefs in the world, known to everyone, and particularly to Yezidis themselves." Al-Reshdani, noting that they publish the newspaper with a total staff of nine people, said that "We wanted to publish the paper in Kurdish. But since the reading language of Iraq and of the Yezidi people is Arabic, we decided to publish solely in Arabic at first. But in the period ahead, we are going to include articles in both Kurdish and English."

I've read that the Yezedis trace their beliefs back to the ancient Medes, although this article by Mehrdad R. Izady suggests a more ancient source:

As early as 2000 BC, the vanguards of the Indo-European speaking tribal immigrants, such as the Hittites and Mittanis, had arrived in southwestern Asia. While the Hittites only marginally affected the mountain communities in Kurdistan, the Mittanis settled in Kurdistan and influenced the natives in several fields worthy of note, in particular the introduction of knotted rug weaving. Even rug designs introduced by the Mittanis and recognizable in Assyrian floor carvings remain the hallmark of Kurdish rugs and kelims. The modern minakhani and chwarsuch styles are basically the same as those the Assyrians depicted nearly 3000 years ago.

The Mittanis seem to have been an Indic, and not an Iranic group of people. Their pantheon, which includes names like Indra, Varuna, Suriya, Nasatya, is typically Indic. The Mittanis could have introduced during this early period some of the Indic tradition that appears to be manifest in the Kurdish religion of Yazdanism.

Izady goes on to say that Yazdanism is still practiced as Alevism, Yezidism and Yarsanism. (Incidentally, it appears that Izady's book, The Kurds: A Concise Handbook, seems to be unavailable).

Maybe we should wait for the English language edition of Kaniya Spi. The editor, Salim Bashir Sadiq al-Reshdani, describes the typical issue:

"The first page has information on the Yezidis and general news, page 2 is formed from a topic out of Yezidi history, and one on women, page 3 deals with the responsibility of Yezidi people within society and their customs, and page 4 covers important achievements by Yezidis. Page 5 deals with culture and art, page 6 with the current status of Yezidis and things being asked of Yezidis, page 7 focuses on providing information on locations and sports, and page 8 covers scholarly evaluations of Yezidi worship."

"Hundreds of submissions are coming in."

How do I get home delivery?

And of course, it's worth remembering why this paper can now be published in Mosul...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:37 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2003

Moments

I live not too far from the Pentagon, and on that morning, I heard the jet fly over my rooftop and moments later, the explosion which rattled the back windows of the house. I've written about this before -- running late for work, hearing on CNBC that a small commuter had struck one of the towers, jumping in the shower, getting out and my mother-in-law (there to watch my son for the day) frantically talking about the plane hitting the tower. Yes, I saw, I told her. "No, two planes," she replied. CNN was on now, and I saw the tape of the second plane. I can't remember what I said, but I do remember how rattled she looked -- she had lived through the seige of Sarajevo and America seemed to her to be impregnable. Then we heard the roar of the jet...

There's a soccer field near our house; I walked to it and from there could see the thick smoke rising. Across the field, the double nickle -- Arlington County Fire Department Company 55 -- was still quiet, but later it would be the staging ground and I believe (if I've understood the brave men and women who work there) the communications center co-ordinating the efforts to put out the fire. A neighbor of mine, who was home working on his house that day, joined me on the field. "They hit the Pentagon," he said.

Back home, the then-soon-to-be three year old and I put out our American flag. My wife called -- she thought I had gone to work already and wanted to make sure I hadn't. (The next morning at work, when I listened to voicemail, I heard her frantic message from the day before; it took me several minutes to figure out how to replay the
"message envelope" which told me the time and date of the call, and I had several awful moments thinking the Pentagon had been hit a second time.)

I called work to find out what was going on there. Then I took my son to the little playground near our house. It didn't seem like there was much else to do. He ran around the playground equipment, slid down the sliding boards, and I did my best to entertain him. While we were there, a trickle, then a flood of Pentagon employees began wandering past, some in uniform, some not, all looking -- well, I'd like to say they looked shell-shocked, because I'm fairly sure I did, but they didn't. They looked calm, even comfortable. The main topic of conversation, from the snatches I heard, was how the people whose cars were still stuck in the vast Pentagon parking lot were going to get home, and how they were going to get to work the next day.

There would be a lot of work to do in the coming days. Of that, at least, I was certain.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:12 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2003

Two views

Cinderella Bloggerfeller, excellent as always, provides a translation of an interview with Andre Glucksman well worth reading, on the nihilism at the core of Islamism. The whole thing is worth reading, so I won't excerpt it, but it does get to something I had wanted to say about the Najaf bombing. A Muslim friend of mine, on hearing the news, was convinced right away it was al Qaeda: "They're atheists," she said to me. "They believe only in themselves."

Meanwhile, the Arab News publishes an editorial drawing a slightly different conclusion on al Qaeda -- that their attacks were justified after all:

The injustices which the killers use to justify their crimes and extract support cannot be left unaddressed. The greatest of these injustices is the crime that has been perpetrated for decades by the Israeli Zionists against the Palestinians. As long as America supports brutal Zionist repression with one hand, it will be pumping air into the lungs of terrorism even while with the other Washington is trying to strangle it.

So Sept. 11 was a justified attack after all, and all that's needed is a Munich-style act of appeasement to solve everything...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:49 PM | Comments (3)

September 09, 2003

Lessons of prehistory

Cinderella Bloggerfeller has a post suggesting that Edward Said is (or was) "completely ignorant of the well-founded theory that there is a common source for many Indian and European languages," (C.B. says he finds this hard to believe, and I do too -- I'd like to see the original passage from Said), which prompted Camassia to ask:

Actually, one thing that I've long wondered, that I expect at least one of these two history buffs would know, is how much the Indo-European expansion was tied to the domestication of the horse. Their homeland seems to have been somewhere around the horse's original habitat, and they started spreading around the time the horse was thought to have been tamed. Was this their big advantage over the people they conquered?

My recollections are hazy, but as I recall, the question of whether to assign an Indo-European linguistic identity to the prehistoric peoples who migrated into Europe and India is a fairly controversial one in archaeological circles. I think you can reliably date some speakers of Indo-European languages to the areas later known as Thrace and Macedonia as early as 1000 BCE, although some archaeologists go further, referring to various cultures -- which have left us pots and bronze and rubbish heaps but no written material -- as far back as 3000 BCE. The problem, really, is that there is no history to go on. One would think that Indo-European speakers had some advantage (there are non-Indo-European languages in Europe -- Basque being the most notable -- suggesting that differing groups struggled for supremacy) but whether it was the horse, or bronze weapons, or perhaps a more effective social structure that made the difference remains an open question. I think the Bell Beaker people are sometimes identified as speakers of a proto-Indo-European (or PIE) language, but again, they left no records, and it's largely a matter of inference. As I recall, the philologists suggest that if X number of related, distinct languages are in use in such and such a year, one can work backward to a probable date at which the common ancestor of the related languages was spoken. The Bell Beakers show up at just about the right time, according to some models.

Incidentally, I should point out that I'd like to see the Said quote in context, because I find it hard to believe that he'd reject the Indo-European model out of hand. He might not like it (since it links Christian Europe with Hindu India while excluding the Semitic Middle East), he might suggest that some have used it for racist purposes, but to reject the theory would be akin to rejecting, say, the theory of evolution (and I believe that evolution rests on, relatively speaking, shakier evidence). I had a copy of Orientalism once, but I think it went missing at some point. Well, if I have time, I'll swing by a bookstore and see if I can find the quote.


Posted by Ideofact at 11:49 PM | Comments (8)

September 08, 2003

Lesssons from history

Normally, I ignore posts like this one from Aziz at Unmedia, but as I'm reading Robert S. Wistrich's book Hitler and the Holocaust, perhaps he can offer some perspective.

Nazism, (mis)understood as a Nietzschean experiment, seemed to be offering the German people a Faustian pact. In return for destroying traditional Christian moral restraints, they might be granted future hegemony over the earlthy kingdoms that other European powers had already partitioned among themselves.

The demonization of the Jews and Judaism assumed immense symbolic importance in this endeavor. ... The Jews were responsible (or, rather, guilty) in [Hitler's] eyes for having invented the very notion of a moral conscience, in defiance of all healthy natural instincts. They had bequeathed this noxious ideal to Christianity and Communism, with their contending dreams of the brotherhood of man, human equality, and justice. Though outwardly imcompatible, these worldviews were for the Nazis two sides of the same Judaic coin: egalitarian ideals that had caused endless suffering, persecution, and intolerance. Moreover, the Jews were accused of having deliberately encouraged the mixing of races, as well as inventing doctrines of democracy, which could only destroy the foundations of human culture itself. For the Nazis, the world had to be liberated from such "evil" principles so that mankind could return once more to its pristine natural order. Thus the planned, systematic eradication of Judaic values was the necessary prerequisite of the physical annihilation of the Jewish people.

Nazism, for all the rabid horror of its adherents' ravings, was a coherent ideology, some of the results of which can be seen here, and here and here.

I'm not defending the object of Aziz's wrath, but I do care a little bit about history, and I find his comparison tells me more about his limited historical understanding and imagination.

Interestingly, Wistrich had a column in Ha'aretz (I came across it via LGF) worth reading. In his opening paragraph, he writes,

The Islamic terrorists who shattered the Twin Towers in Manhattan on 11th September two years ago laid out a potentially terrifying road-map for the 21st century. They demonstrated that highly motivated radical groups driven by a nihilism, an ideology of Jihad and an insidious death cult which transmutes mass murder into revolutionary virtue, are capable of shaking the pillars of civilization. Perhaps the ultimate blasphemy is that this bloody deed was proclaimed in the name of Allah, his Prophet Muhammad and the Holy Koran. To quote Hamas' weekly, Al-Risa'la, in Gaza, on 13 September, 2001: "Allah has answered our prayers."

(Emphasis added.)

Wistrich goes on to make his own Hitler comparison:

For Mohammed Atta, the Egyptian mastermind of 9/11, it was self-evident that the Jews control the global media, international finance and the politics of the infidel West. In his eyes, they were to blame for the American crusade against Saddam Hussein, the Russian war in Chechnya, the world-wide assault on Islam, permissive morals and decadent "Westernization" in his native Egypt. The dream of Atta and many other Islamists was to create a Muslim theocracy from the Nile to the Euphrates, "liberated" from any Jewish presence. To achieve this goal, the
Al-Qaida fanatics based in Hamburg struck at New York City, the "center of world Jewry" and the "Jewish-controlled" international financial system. In this ideological sense, they showed themselves to be direct heirs of Hitler and his genocidal mind-set. The failure of so many people, including Americans, Jews and Israelis, to grasp this crucial fact about the motivations for 9/11 is a stunning example of how little has been learned from history.

This comparison seems far more apt to me -- far more historically grounded.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:42 PM | Comments (10)

September 05, 2003

nothing something in particular

The problem with comments is that I feel like I have to answer them. I left a lengthy comment in the post below, and now I don't much feel like writing anything else.

I wanted to write something about the Apollo program, largely because the soon-to-be five year old has suddenly discovered astronauts and the moon. I'm always amazed how his attention shifts -- the first time I took him to the Air and Space Museum -- he was probably not quite three at the time -- the things that interested him were the model trucks on the model deck of the model aircraft carrier. He loved pirates last summer, then medieval knights in the fall and winter, then ancient Egypt in the spring and most of the summer. While some of the pirate and knight games remained -- we still have thrilling sword fights, either with our without shields -- his attention shifted to building Egyptian temples out of blocks, and making sarcophagi for his FisherPrice mummy figures. We have a dozen or so books for children on ancient Egypt, plus a few for adults that he seems to prefer (particularly the ones with lots of photographs). Then, last weekend, he saw a book with astronauts and space shuttles on the cover, and that's the new mania.

This is somewhat poignant for me, because when I was not much older than him, Apollo 11 successfully landed men on the moon. I remember my mom got me a book on the Apollo program -- I vaguely recall that the Gulf Oil Company offered it as a premium with so many fill-ups (but I may be wrong about this). It had the requisite pictures of Goddard and a pretty cool cutaway diagram of the Saturn V rocket, showing the Lunar Module garage (it was called the LEM, short for Lunar Excursion Module, but when I was a kid I thought it was the Limb, like an arm or a leg). My absolute favorite toy was Major Matt Mason, and when my parents got me bunk beds, I insisted on sleeping in the bottom one, because it would be just like an astronaut in his space capsule (hey, I was 5 years old).

I remember not so much the first moon landing, but my father getting me to come watch it. I remember rather vividly the anxiety about Apollo 13 -- it seemed that you'd hear each morning that last night's crisis had been solved, only to find out on the evening news that no, chances were still slim, and we'd probably lose the crew. It makes me tear up a little bit whenever I read the words of Gene Kranz, addressing his colleagues at the bleakest moment:

Okay, listen up. When you leave this room, you must leave believing that this crew is coming home. I don't give a damn about the odds, and I don't give a damn that we've never done anything like this before. Flight control will never lose an American in space. You've got to believe, you people have got to believe, that this crew is coming home. Now let's get going.

I quoted that passage from a book, Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon. It was epic. The same volume notes,

Unfortunately, without a clear vision behind it, and without the "old heads" in NASA engineering, the shuttle program ran very differently from Apollo, and it would come in grossly over budget and years late.

I don't mean to take anything away from the brave astronauts and the engineers and technicians at mission control who've manned the shuttle program, but it seems like that lack of clear vision is still a problem, and one that hasn't been answered. And that, when I was a kid, I could imagine a future in space, whereas for my son, the glory years all seem to be in the past -- astronauts aren't much different than pirates or mummies to him.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:55 PM | Comments (1)

September 04, 2003

Abdication

Maybe I'm just reading this wrong -- perhaps there's some ironic turn of phrase I'm missing in this piece by Will Saletan of Slate, a writer I normally find reasonable, even if I don't always agree with him, on the execution of Paul Hill, the zealot who in 1994 murdered a Florida doctor who performed abortions and his driver/bodyguard. Saletan begins by writing,

At 6 p.m. ET, Florida executed anti-abortion murderer Paul Hill. This wasn't the first killing in the story of Hill's demise, and if fanatics who support him make good on their threats, it won't be the last. It's just the latest in a chain of deaths with no logical end.

There is a fairly logical end. By and large, I think most people who oppose abortion would never dream of trying to affect change through assassinations. Those who do should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The logical end is that government enforce the law, and reject out of hand the arguments that zealots make (as happened in the Hill trial). Saletan seems concerned that Hill's murder will be avenged, and concludes his column this way:

So, here's where things stand: People are threatening to kill officials in Florida for killing Paul Hill for killing John Britton for killing unborn babies. And if they fulfill those threats, you can be sure that they'll be killed, too.

I've long defended the death penalty in principle, if not always in practice, on the grounds that some people do things so awful that they simply deserve it. Their guilt voids their right to life. But this chain of killing gives me pause. The word "innocent" keeps popping up in the Hill saga, each time as a basis for saying that it's OK for us to kill them but not for them to kill us. Babies are innocent, but Britton is guilty, so it's OK to kill him. Britton was innocent, but Hill is guilty, so it's OK to kill Hill. Only once in this story has a jury determined guilt, and that verdict does merit particular respect. But the longer the chain of killing gets, the harder it is to spin complex theories about why one party is guilty and the other is innocent, instead of just saying it's wrong to kill.

I can understand those who argue that is wrong for the state to execute anyone; this is not Saletan's position. Rather, unless I am badly misreading him, he is arguing that because the likes of Hill are arguing that they are killing to protect to the innocent, and because those who threaten the duly elected or appointed representatives of the people of the state of Florida believe that Hill killed to protect the innocent, that the state should cease carrying out the death penalty against such zealots. He cannot be arguing that the zealots give up murder as a means of achieving their ends, because there would be no need to confuse things by saying that "the longer the chain of killing gets" the more morally ambiguous the case becomes. At what point does this occur? If a zealot kills the judge who heard the case of Paul Hill? Would putting to death that assassin, after a trial at which the accused is granted all the benefits of due process and found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, present a case in which the complex theories of innocence prevent the people from carrying out the sentence? If a zealot murdered the prosecutor in that case? If a zealot murdered the governor who signed the next killer's death warrant?

Again, I can understand arguments that it is simply wrong for the state to administer the death penalty under any circumstances, but I cannot understand the argument Saletan makes. It seems he suggests that some murderers who have committed heinous crimes should be excused because of their intentions, which strikes me as an abdication of moral responsibility.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:46 PM | Comments (9)

Modern Terror

Maryam of A Dervish's Dua has a post on a program that aired in Australia, Age of Terror. It is difficult to tell from either her description or the program description what qualifies as modern, but she writes,

Tonight's show was essentially about state sponsored terrorism. Yes, the terrorism you have when you're not having a terrorism. (Apologies to Claytons). There were interviews from US CIA bods who had been involved in the Contra guerrilla war and Argentianian military bods who had terrorised and tortured their own citizens during "The Dirty War".

It made me realise, how dark the twentieth century really was. The first modern acts of terrorism (according to this show) were committed by those fighting to establish the nation state of Israel, and today Israel is beleagured by suicide bombers. Despite the glitz of the eighties, the democratic US was committing acts of terrorism on foreign soil. Now in the new millenium, terrorism is coming home to the whole planet. When will we learn? The ends don't justify the means!

The twentieth century was certainly dark, but with all due respect to victims of Argentinian or Nicaraguan terror, I think it pales in numerical terms to the terror of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao. And as to the origins of modern terror, I do not know how the program's makers could have chosen the Palestinian Mandate as the place in which the first modern acts of terror were committed. As I once noted on paleo Ideofact, the blood bath that was the twentieth century began on July 28, 1914 in Sarajevo, when a group of Serb terrorists assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, touching off the Great War and all the horrors of Fascism and Communism that followed.


Posted by Ideofact at 01:27 AM | Comments (4)

September 03, 2003

The Wisest of Men

From Alija Izetbegovic's Notes from Prison:

During the last years of Cromwell's power, the wisest Englishmen were invited to take over power. This "cabinet of the saints" or "cabinet of the sages," as it was called by the English, soon disintegrated and was compromised, showing that perhaps the sages are not the most suitable people for solving the entangled problems introduced by life.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

September 02, 2003

Pretense

On the recommendation of several friends, I started reading the The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I'm sorry to say that the opening of the book didn't thrill me. I don't think I'll be giving too much away if I describe what bothered me about it. A prominent man is murdered. Within 5 hours or so of his death, the police visit the last man the victim was supposed to see, a professor of "symbology," which, from the description given, appears to be a discipline that approaches works of art like a telegraph operator reading morse code. Before he is even asked whether their meeting took place, or where he had been the last few hours, the police show him a photograph of the corpse, take him to the crime scene, and ask him several questions as to his theory of what the evidence reveals. In other words, the first instinct of the police in this book is not to suspect the last man whom the deceased might have met of committing the murder, but rather to show him all the evidence and enlist him, and his peculiar specialty, to help solve the crime.

In Borges' masterful story Death and the Compass, the Dupin or Holmes character eschews the simple, pragmatic explanation offered by the police inspector and embarks on an investigation of Kaballah to solve the crime. In Brown's fiction, the police inspector would insist on a Kaballistic explanation, ignoring the far more prosaic solution at hand (which, in the Borges story, turns out to be the correct assumption). Brown could have arrived at a more economical introduction simply by making his protagonist the police force's staff symbologist, something that would be no more of a pretense than the introduction he offers.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:28 PM | Comments (1)

September 01, 2003

Note on Sudek

For some time, I've wanted to do a lengthy post on Josef Sudek, a Czech photographer dubbed, not without reason, the Poet of Prague (a city that produced both Gustav Meyrink and Franz Kafka; Rilke too wrote some short pieces on the city). Sudek lost his right arm in the First World War; his photographs of the veteran's home Invalidnovna, taken early in his career as a photographer, from 1922-1927, are among his most moving. But when I saw an exhibition of his works in Philadelphia in 1990, it was the series "A Walk in the Magic Garden" -- particularly one of the photographs labeled "The Departure of Mr. Magician" -- that made the strongest impression on me, although I am not quite prepared to say why. Chesterton (whom I quote via Borges) once wrote that

Man knows that there in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest; ... Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semi-tones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals. He believes that an ordinary civilized stockbroker can really produce out of his own inside noises which denote all the mysteries of memory and all the agonies of desire.

There is something of this in Sudek's works -- tones and semi-tones, and all the agonies of desire. I wish I could find one such work online, but the posted images I've come across are not those that made such an impression on me (I have several of them, scattered among four separate anthologies of this work, including one I purchased in Prague).

Sudek described his approach to photography this way:

Discovery -- that's important. First comes the discovery. Then follows the work. And then sometimes something from it remains.

It would be a shame to mention Sudek and not recommend a single photograph, so I suggest looking at this one.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:44 PM | Comments (0)