October 30, 2003


The discussion of Luxenberg has reminded me of something I'd wanted to quote for some time -- from Farid Esack's work The Qur'an: A Short Introduction. I think I can launch into it without much of a preface:

As we have seen on our discussion of the Qur'an's createdness, the early centuries after the Prophet's demise were characterized by an enormous diversity of opinion on every conceivable political and theological issue and more often than not these were interrelated. As the Muslim empire expanded and brought along with it a host of complex legal and ideological issues both the Qur'an and the Sunnah became contested terrain in the various struggles for authority and legitimacy. The emerging orthodoxy both spearheaded and, in a sense, was the product of the attempts to define, gather, codify and authenticate the Sunnah of the Prophet. The various and often varying accounts of the Prophet's words, deeds and approval by silent consent multiplied rapidly and it is possible to find more than tens of thousands of hadith attributed to a Companion who was in his early teens when the Prophet died.

In a footnote, Esack adds,

Tens of thousands of hadith were, for example, attributed to Abu Hurayrah (d. 57 or 58/676-677), a Companion who had spent just three years in the company of the Prophet. Muhammad Mustafa al-'Azami estimates that there are about three quarters of a million hadith.

Earlier in the work, Esack distinguishes between the sunnah -- by which I think he means the precedents and, to some extent, the consensus reached under the four rightly guided Caliphs and the precedents set by the Prophet himself -- and the Sunnah, which were the precedents set by the Prophet himself (and, it seems, arrived at at some distance in time from the life of the Prophet). Esack explains the difference in style: "Al-Shafi' argued that the Sunnah -- which now gets a capital letter -- was to be regarded as co-equal to the Qur'an in authority "for the command of the Prophet is the Command of God." Al-Shafi' died in 819 CE and the Prophet in 632 CE -- by way of comparison, the present is equidistant from the year 1816. Esack goes on to write,

With Sunnah now equated with the sunnah of Muhammad and elevated to the level of a source of religio-legal authority, and with Hadith established as the only means to authenticate Sunnah, the various disputants attempted to justify their views and to strip their opponents of legitimacy on the basis of Hadith. This contributed to the emergence of both a corpus of Hadith literature and an entire science around it, much of it based on the growing informal hadith manufacturing industry.

He also adds this footnote:

Brown notes that the "extent of the forgery was dramatic. Forgers became active even during the life of Muhammad, in spite of the warning that whoever spreads lies about him would burn in hell. In the Caliphate of 'Umar, the problem became so serious that he prohibited transmission of hadith altogether. Forgery only increased under the Umayyads, the first dynasty of Islam that reigned from 661 until 750. They considered hadith a means of propping up their rule and actively circulated traditions against 'Ali in favor of Mu'awiyah [ibn Abi Sufyan (d. 680), the founder of the dynasty]. The Abbasids [who succeeded them] followed the same pattern, circulating Prophetic hadith which predicted the reign of each successive ruler. Moreover, religious and ethnic conflicts further contributed to the forgery of hadith. The Zanadiqah (those who professed Islam while holding Manichean ideas, as we are told by the heresiographers), for example, are reported to have circulated 12,000 fabricated traditions. The degree of the problem can be seen from the testimony of the muhaddithum themselves. Bukhari, for example, selected 9,000 traditions out of 700,000."

I found all this rather fascinating. It's also worth noting that Esack is a Muslim.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2003


I'm totally beat tonight -- regrettably, actual work is interfering with my ability to goof off on the blog -- but I've been reading this piece by Zadie Smith in the New Republic (didn't get a chance to finish it, I left my copy of TNR at work, and I'm too tired to write about what I wanted to write about anyway).

Meanwhile, the Cranky Professor has some thoughts -- and some actual research -- on the two negative reviews of Luxenberg I posted below. One thing also worth pointing out -- as I understand it, Luxenberg's book is, in the words of these reviewers,

...only a sketch, developed with a heuristic and supported by extensive evidence. Luxenberg is aware that many features of a standard philological presentation are missing. These he promises in the final study.

If this is true, then perhaps the attacks of his philological method are premature. I remain skeptical, but not entirely dismissive.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:30 PM | Comments (2)

October 28, 2003

Luxenberg critiqued

One of the problems with comments is that they sometimes come in old posts, and I don't necessarily notice them. Mubin Shaikh points out two negative reviews of the work by Christopher Luxenberg, the pseudonymous author of a fairly radical reinterpretation of the Qur'an, which I noted here. I also noted a positive review of his work here.

Mr. Shaikh points to reviews here and here. As I think I've noted before, I'm in no position of judge Luxenberg's work (he's taken a philological approach to interpreting the Qur'an, and bases much of his argument on the notion that much of the Qur'an was not written in Arabic, but rather borrowed words from another Semitic language -- Aramaic, I believe -- and that down the years these words have been misinterpreted). Earlier, I wrote:

...given the radical nature of Luxenberg's thesis, a fairly large dose of skepticism is in order -- take a tablet about the size of a manhole cover. ... I of course cannot judge Luxenberg's work for myself, but I imagine a number of specialists in classical Arabic and Aramaic are eager to do so for me. It will be interesting to see both his book and what the reaction of his critics will be. (I suspect the latter will be available in English long before the former.)

I still stand by that, and while I think it's also premature to conclude on the basis of two reviews, as Mr. Shaikh does, that it "Looks like this book is already a dud," skepticism seems to have been in order.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:27 PM | Comments (2)

October 27, 2003


...is approaching, and David over at Cronaca quotes a delightful paragraph from the print edition of the New York Times that didn't make it into the online version. The article is about Emory University returning what is believed to be the mummy of Rameses I, pharaoh of Egypt from 1293 B.C. to 1291 B.C., to Egypt:

In what was a spur-of-the-moment decision, he said, the Rameses I coffin will be reunited with the mummy. In Cairo [on the way to its permanent home at Luxor], the mummy will not be in the same room as Seti I and Rameses II, he said, "but they will visit in the evening."

Can't imagine why they wouldn't have put that online -- I suppose pixel inches cost too much...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:52 PM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2003

Concorde, democracy & technology

From The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages by the late Jean Gimpel:

I was now able to date the entry of the United States into her aging or declining era: 1971. In 1971 the United States Congress refused to allocate funds for the supersonic transport project, and this antitechnological vote represented a complete reversal of the traditional attitude of the United States toward technology. If we accept 1947 as the beginning of the previous era, the United States had an era of maturity of almost twenty-five years. The Golden Age of Pericles, which was sometimes recalled during John F. Kennedy's time in the White House, lasted about the same number of years.

I was reminded of that passage when I read over the weekend about the final flights of the Concorde, and this piece arguing that the plane -- which is quite an engineering feat -- should be preserved:

Of course, the great bird never made any economic sense and burnt its way through the equivalent of £20 billion of public money in order to get airborne. ...

... British Airways claims it is going to put its five aircraft in a museum, although one might be kept airborne for shows and anniversaries. That is the least the airline can do, given that it effectively received the aircraft for free. And Richard Branson is still trying to persuade BA to let him have a stab at operating a service commercially.

Around the time that the European consortium was making the first downpayment on that £20 billion, the United States went in a different direction. The old Civilian Aviation Board, or CAB, which regulated flights and ensured airlines a profit (meaning, often, that planes flew well short of their capacity and ticket prices were exorbitantly high) was on its last legs. By 1978, Congress -- led by Ted Kennedy -- and President Carter deregulated the airline industry. No longer would CAB determine what the "public convenience" was (which is how they determined how many planes would go to what cities -- not surprisingly, there were very frequent flights from Washington to the airports nearest the congressional districts of members who oversaw CAB's work). The result was cheaper airfares, higher passenger volume, and a revolution in transport. American airlines demanded manufacturers take the opposite direction from the Europeans -- rather than build faster planes with higher ticket prices, American technology was put in service of building planes that would serve more people at a lower cost.

Gimpel did not understand that the American reluctance to invest billions of taxpayer dollars in a plane that middle class Americans -- average taxpayers -- could not afford to fly in was not a sign of decline, but rather one of democratic vigor.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2003

The growing tide of facism

No, that's not a typo in the headline. Instead of spending my Saturday with my family, I'm here at work, trying to finish off a project. It seems that whenever I have deadlines that require weekend work, one of these circuses is in town.

I stopped at a Starbucks on the way, and an older man was frantically scrawling in magic marker on large placards:

U.S. New World Order = FACISM

I didn't bother to point out either error...

Posted by Ideofact at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2003

Ghouls to Beckford

It took a while for me to find the volume, but almost none to find the reference I was looking for:

ghoul - 1786, in Beckford's "Vathek," from Ar. ghul, an evil spirit that robs graves and feeds on corpses, from ghala "he seized."

I was reminded of ghouls when the soon-to-be five-year-old asked me, "What's a ghoul?" I decided to skip the part about feeding on corpses, but otherwise I think I was pretty accurate in recalling the Arabic origin of the word, and (although I didn't mention it) the English novelist (who actually wrote Vathek in French) who introduced the word into the English language.

I read Vathek several years ago -- William Beckford could probably be the poster boy for the late Edward Said's theory of Orientalism (in fact, scanning the index of Said's work, I find only three passing references to Beckford, and no mention of Vathek). The back cover of my paperback edition of the book -- dated 1983 (Good God, it was quite a few years ago...) tells us that the work

remains one of the strangest eighteenth-century novels and one of the most difficult to classify. Perverse and grotesque comedy alternate with scenes of 'oriental' magnificence and evocative beauty in the story of the ruthless Caliph Vathek's journey to superb damnation among the subterranean treasures of Eblis. Underlying the elegant prose and pervading the whole of the novel is a strong element of self-indulgent personal fantasy on the part of Beckford himself, youthful millionaire, dreamer, and eventually social outcast. Byron, Poe, Mallarme, and Swinburne are but a few of the literary figures who have admired Vathek's imaginative power.

The novel is, by and large, about a pursuit of evil, about a man who sets out on a quest to achieve utter damnation. I enjoyed reading it (and am considering reading it again) because it had the principle virtue of a work of literature: it made me want to know what happened next.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:58 PM | Comments (1)

Poe & the press

From the short story (the second featuring Dupin, and ratiocination -- I wonder how many people think of Poe, who invented the genre, when they think of detective fiction) The Mystery of Marie Roget:

We should bear in mind that, in general, it is the object of our newspapers rather to create a sensation -- to make a point -- than to further the cause of truth. The latter end is only pursued when it seems coincident with the former.

How little things have changed...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:53 PM | Comments (0)

October 21, 2003


Sorry for the inactivity the last week and this one. A few times (last night, and last Thursday night) I tried to blog something, but couldn't get into Ideofact, no doubt because of the Denial of Service attacks that seem to be plaguing Hosting Matters. Other nights I just haven't much felt like writing anything. Part of it is work -- it's been fairly grueling the last few weeks -- and part of it is a sense that I've said certain things before, and don't much feel like repeating myself. I'll try to get back to more regular postings next week -- if Hosting Matters is down, I'll grit my teeth and deal with the lousy blogspot interface and post on paleo ideofact.

Short pop music reference -- over the weekend I picked up the first Lloyd Cole and the Commotions album, Rattlesnakes. I have it on vinyl somewhere (it was released way back in the dark ages of 1984). Cole wrote one of my favorite pop music lines in the song Four Flights Up, which probably loses something (but not too much) when simply read --

Must you tell me all your secrets when it's hard enough to love you knowing nothing?

In its own way, a perfect sentiment.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:57 PM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2003

Books & bookshelves

I swung by Borders today, and noticed on the shelf a copy of Franz Kafka: Diaries 1910-1923. I didn't buy it; I already have a copy at home, which I flipped through, put aside, and never got back to.

I flipped through it again when I got home, and quite enjoyed this passage:

'Don't you want to join us?' I was recently asked by an acquaintance when he ran across me alone after midnight in a coffee-house that was already almost deserted. 'No, I don't,' I said.

On another note, it's rather pathetic that I go to bookstores now as much to be reminded of books I have and haven't read as to buy new ones...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:51 PM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2003


I tried to think of a comparison. Perhaps Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, in which a doctor discovers what's making the townspeople ill, jeapordizing the town's two most lucrative businesses. His joy of discovery is quickly turned to bitterness, as his fellow citizens recognize the implications of his science. But the Ibsen play requires too much explanation, and there is too much politics in it. Some of Kafka's work is closer -- Kafka can make an insignificant, everyday gesture take on monstrous dimensions. The surveyor K. in the Castle, who approaches an official who may be able to shed some light on his assignment, only to be told that he has prejudiced those in power against his only allies, who of course are helpless themselves. But even that doesn't compare...

Fate is often cruel. I have been to enough baseball games to know that the natural reaction to a foul ball traveling toward the stands is to raise one's hands and try to catch it. This photo -- not the best I've seen (the one in this story is a little better)-- shows several people reaching for the ball that just one fan had the misfortune to touch.

A bit of wind, a slightly different trajectory, and it could just as easily have been one of the fans next to him, or further along, who touched that fatal foul. It is said that baseball is a game of inches, and indeed, that is true. So, sometimes, is fate -- plucking one obscure man among the multitude and holding him up to the derision of his peers for doing something they, in all probability, would not hesitate to do.

One can take things too far (and I certainly believe some Cubs fans have -- the fan had little to do with the torrent of runs the Marlins scored, the error, the walks...), but still -- it's rather monstrous that something so mundane as reaching for a foul ball can change one's life.

In the fairly tale "Beauty and the Beast," Beauty's father, a merchant, plucks a rose for his daughter that belongs to the Beast -- a crime for which he must surrender his beloved daughter to the monster, or else lose his life. Beauty's virtue and compassion more than compensate for her father's act; as of this writing, it appears that the Cubs may not succeed in redeeming their fan. Let's hope for a fairy tale ending, but I'm afraid it won't happen...

Posted by Ideofact at 10:58 PM | Comments (1)

October 14, 2003

Kurds & Turks

I thought I'd written, in this post, something to the effect that you can use the question of Kurdish rights as a yardstick for judging the intentions of various players in and commentators on the Middle East. I didn't put it that directly, however. Of course, things run more ways than one, and if you want to judge the rhetoric about freedom and self-determination in Iraq, you might want to pay careful attention to the deployment of 10,000 Turkish troops to the Sunni areas of the country.

Over at KurdishMedia.com, they seem to be paying attention to little else. (As of this writing, I count four news stories and six commentaries about the deployment on the home page.) They've posted Ralph Peters' denunciation of the move, which originally appeared in the New York Post, among other pieces. I have to say I didn't greet the news with much enthusiasm, but I wasn't quite as apoplectic as Peters:

Turkey has one enduring aim: the suppression of Kurdish freedom anywhere in the region. That will be Ankara’s immutable goal in Iraq.

It's certainly true that Turkey's record on the Kurds has been deplorable; I now have quite a few books filled with accounts of various episodes from that shameful history. I don't think it's a stretch to say that suppression of the Kurds living in Turkey has been a Turkish policy from the start -- I seem to recall a line from the country's constitution saying something along the lines that anyone who is a citizen is, by definition, a Turk. I believe that attitude stems from Kemal Ataturk himself, and one could well argue based on this history--as I think Peters does--that the Turks are in Iraq for the primary purpose of suppressing Kurds. But if so, they are going against another element of Ataturk's governing philosophy by involving themselves directly in the affairs of the former possessions of the Ottoman Empire. (Turks refer to this injunction as "staying out of Arab hair.")

In the 1990s, Turgut Ozal, then the president of Turkey, openly received Iraqi Kurdish leaders, despite opposition from his own government, before his death in 1993. It's unlikely the Ozal would have pursued a course that would have allowed for cultural recognition and equal rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority, but I think there's some justification for believing that he wanted to pursue a different course for Iraq's Kurds. It's an open question as to what his successors have in mind, and I'm not optimistic, but I'm not persuaded either that Peters is entirely correct in his assessment.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:30 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2003

Radio silence

Sorry about the lack of posts -- I've been busy. Much tomorrow, I suspect.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)

October 09, 2003

Reformation 1

Brian Ulrich asks, after noting that he'd always been dismissive toward calls in the media for an Islamic Reformation,

But then it struck me, could there be an odd connection after all? After all, weren't many leading Protestants people who were not exactly high-ranking clergy yet achieved religious leadership by claiming to return to an ideal golden age in the past? And didn't this take place in an environment shaped by new technologies and the formation of modern nation-states? And finally, wasn't it in many ways fundamentally conservative? Or at least, that's what I remember from my undergraduate Women's History course...

I tend to be dismissive of the idea as well, for a number of reasons. I'm not sure, to begin with, what form an Islamic Reformation is supposed to take, for example. I'll start though, with Brian's questions.

--If you look at Luther, Calvin, Tyndale (Tyndale reinvented English syntax, more or less, through translating into English the Hebrew and Greek of the Old and New Testaments) -- well, they may not have been the Pope, but they weren't exactly Everyman either. For the era (in Tyndale's case for any era) they were tremendously well-educated, and were certainly part of the elite. And I'm not sure that returning to a golden past was something they had in mind. Tyndale, for example, questioned the Canon (he doubted Paul was the author of Hebrews, to cite one example), and also believed that every generation must reinterpret scripture anew. Such views are overshadowed by the insistence of the Protestants of grounding Church practices and doctrine in the Scriptures, but there was something of a historical anomaly involved in that. To provide an analogous situation in Islam -- imagine if it were a crime to read or recite the Qur'an, if the religious authorities had adopted doctrines contained nowhere in the Qur'an, if reading the Qur'an by anyone other than the clergy was strictly forbidden to prevent believers discovering how skewed doctrine had become -- well, that's roughly what the reformers were up against with the Catholic Church.

--New technologies were crucial -- the printing press, primarily -- to the spread of Reformation ideas, but the Reformation was most successful in the German principalities (hardly a nation-state), England and Scotland (very decentralized), and the Netherlands (ditto). But I think that's one of the strengths of the Reformation -- instead of thinking of a universal, catholic (small C) church, the Protestants thought in terms of congregations. The Reformation was in many ways a local phenomenon. I also think that we're well past the point of no return regarding the various Muslim nation states -- they're already nations, fully formed.

--Again, I'm not sure that the Reformation was fundamentally conservative, because it's a meaningless term in this context. Or to put it another way, Marx, who wanted to return to the egalitarian society of hunter gatherers, was a conservative.

Sorry, these are idle thoughts, not fully formed. I'll try to follow up with a longer meditation on the subject.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:22 PM | Comments (3)

October 08, 2003

Blogger hell

Never thought I'd type those two words again. Zack from Procrastination emailed to let me know that some of the posts I did on Sayyid Qutb have disappeared. I wasn't able to find them, either on the blog or using the blogger editing interface (I can only access the advanced one from work).

Nice to be reminded of why I moved -- once I got used to the interface, I've hardly ever had to think about Moveable Type. With Blogger, it seemed like anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of my time was spent screwing around with the back end -- trying to get archives to republish, cringing when posts disappeared, etc. etc. Thanks, Zack, for reminding me why I switched.

Oh, and I'll email blogger and see if they know what happened to the missing verbiage.

Update: I found the old posts; they're at the top of paleo ideofact.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:51 PM | Comments (2)


Can anyone explain why the National and American League playoff games are both scheduled at night tonight? At the same time? You'd think they never played day games at Wrigley, or something...

Posted by Ideofact at 10:15 PM | Comments (2)

October 07, 2003


While trying to restore a little order to my home work space (this involves haphazardly reshelving the books that tend to pile up, among other things) I came across an old Vintage edition (the cover price was $1.65!) of the Journals of Andre Gide, Volume I, translated by Justin O'Brien. My copy was printed in 1956 in the United States, but has a stamp of a bookseller in New Delhi, India, on the title page.

I've always had a fondness for Gide -- fiercely protestant, homosexual, a man of the 19th Century in the 20th -- always an engaging writer and thinker. I flipped through the book (this explains why I accomplish very little cleaning) and came across this passage, from June 1913, in which Gide sketches out the theme of a novel:

Establish the bankruptcy of Christianity -- those who wanted to practice it had to withdraw from the world; Chirstianity was unable to form a world in the image of Christ as Buddha or Mohammed did -- show that this is the superiority of Christ. But Catholicism set out to form a society and succeeds in doing so only by getting rid of Christ.

(All this wants to be said very mildly; horror of the tone of voice that belongs to the dispenser of justice or to the revolutionary.)

That the first duty of the Christian is to be happy; and so long as he has not achieved happiness he has not put into practice the teaching of Christ. -- Christ's wonderful words: "Why weepest thou?" (To be commented on.)

Gide sometimes strikes me as being more of a theologian who dabbled in writing fictions than a novelist, but I mean that as a compliment.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)

October 06, 2003


From the essay "Old and New Oral Traditions in Badinan" by Christine Allison in Kurdish Culture and Identity:

The women of Qosh Tepe, a collective farm near Erbil, were from the Barzani tribe. In the years following the collapse of Mullah Mustafa Barzani's rebellion in 1975 their villages in Barzan were destroyed, and the inhabitants were moved to settlements in the South of Iraq. Later, they were moved North again, to Qosh Tepe. In 1983, the Iraqi army came to Qosh Tepe and removed all males over the age of twelve, who have never been seen since. Not only did the women grieve for the loss of their fathers, brothers and sons, but their means of financial and social support were removed. There are stories that other Kurds secretly gave them food and money, but in general they were forced to do long hours of manual work for little pay, and many were apparently reduced to prostitution; the lack of men to protect them made them vulnerable to rape by members of the Iraqi armed and security forces; such cases, though surrounded by shame, have been reported.

I googled "Qosh Tepe" and got two hits, one of which seems to be a false positive. This one, which also mentions the Kurdish Jews, is worth reading. I can't help but wonder how many other Qosh Tepes have been perpetrated, leaving behind perhaps even less than a stray post on Yahoo and an academic's passing reference in an essay on oral traditons.

In the essay I quoted, the author explains that the lament that these survivors sing for the men of Qosh Tepe -- their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons -- departs from traditional Kurdish laments in that it not only mourns the victims, but the singers as well.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

Enjoying this

I remember a September game, in 1993, when the Phillies were trying to head off a late charge by the Montreal Expos on their way to the National League pennant. Mitch Williams, better known as the Wild Thing, came in to pitch the ninth inning nursing a one run lead. I think the bases were loaded in this fashion: Walk. Bunt, throwing error by Williams, men on first and third. Walk. Bases loaded. Nobody out. Richie Ashburn, the Phillies play-by-play man, said, "I don't know how anybody could be enjoying this."

Williams somehow -- I can't remember how -- got out of it, preserving the win. One of my favorite lines of his went, "The best thing about me? I get the job done. The worst thing? You have to watch me do it."

I didn't enjoy watching the bottom of the ninth of the Red Sox-A's game (my father's a long suffering Sox fan, and I always pull for them in the post-season), but I'm pleased by the outcome...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:30 PM | Comments (0)

October 05, 2003

Supply and demand

This sounds dangerous -- Iranian pharmacists can sell 20 oz. bottles of nearly pure alcohol for medicinal purposes -- and Iranians are, if the story is accurate, buying them by the boxload, in some cases, to use for decidedly non-medicinal purposes. The article notes,

"Most buyers just mix the alcohol with fruit juice or Coca-Cola," explained a Tehran pharmacist, who asked to remain anonymous.

Some ardent consumers, however, point out that better results are gained when the liquid is mixed and left to blend for some time, thereby ensuring a good mix and less of a headache the following morning.

Make mine a double, and put a pickled onion in it, just to make it look like a respectable drink...

The advent of the pharmalcohol has caused some consternation among consumers (and no doubt purveyors) of adult beverages:

The availabilty of the transparent alcohol -- which bears no health warning -- has set the rumour mills going, with some people asserting that Iranian authorities were deliberately allowing its sale in order to kill off the illegal trade in imported bottles of whisky, gin and vodka.

...something that the government denies...

This sparked the health ministry to announce in the local press that the alcohol has been made "solely for medical purposes" -- such as sterilising needles for insulin-injecting diabetics.

A bottle of the pharmalcohol costs about 25,000 rials the story informs us, or about $3 -- which is roughly what a can of beer costs (hey! I've spent twice that for a beer in some D.C.-area watering holes!). The story also notes another reason for the recent popularity of pharmalcohol:

Much of the illegal alcohol that finds its way into Iran comes from Iraqi Kurdistan, and the US invasion of Iraq -- during which Iran's borders were heavily reinforced -- saw illegal alcohol prices sky-rocket.

Yet another reason for regarding the Kurds with a certain fondness...

The authorities have started cracking down on the authorities, putting some out of business who have been selling bottles of pharmalcohol without the necessary prescriptions:

...if anyone will be breathing a sigh of relief, it will be the Islamic republic's network of alcohol traders -- some of whom are privately complaining that sales are down since the pharmacies weighed in on their illicit business.

All of which gives us a good lesson in the economic principle of supply and demand, and price, of course.

I should note that I feel a little sheepish about posting this, and apologize for my flip tone -- my sympathies are with the Iranian people, and I do worry about the potential harm that consuming nearly pure alcohol -- mixed with soda or left overnight diluted with fruit juice -- can cause. I'd much rather they had access to a fine wine or a good beer. If I weren't so tired, I'd have tried to aim my flip comments at the government that insists on infantisizing those it oppresses.

(Via KurdMedia.com.)

Posted by Ideofact at 01:16 AM | Comments (2)

October 04, 2003


Anyone wondering why Edgar Allan Poe had such a fascination with claustrophobia and being buried alive should visit the Baltimore house on North Amity Street where he lived from 1833 to 1835, as we did today. The garret room, where he most likely composed tales like Berenice, MS. Found in a Bottle, and Morella, is singularly oppressive; climbing the winding staircase to it one feels as if one is actually descending. I'm about a half-inch taller than Poe (he was 5' 8" -- actually a little on the tall side for the time), and the dimensions of the tiny room were oppressive.

Later we went to visit Poe's grave. In 1849, his final resting place was unmarked; now there are two monuments in the cemetery -- one marking the place where he was originally buried, the other, in a more prominent spot, showing where he now lies, along with his wife and mother-in-law. Following a local custom, we left a few pennies on the monument, which was paid for by the donations of pennies by Baltimore school children.

In an essay on Herman Melville, Borges wrote,

Vast populations, towering cities, erroneous and clamorous publicity have conspired to make unknown great men one of America's traditions. Edgar Allan Poe was one of these men; so was Melville.

I do not disagree with Borges' observation, but I do not think it applies only to America. Shakespeare was nearly forgotten, and Kafka virtually unknown during his lifetime.

Oddly enough, for someone who loves literature to the extent that I do, Poe is only the second writer for whom I have made a pilgrimage of sorts (and this was, actually, at the insistence of my wife, who is an immigrant). The other is Kafka -- while in Prague I made a point of visiting the building that housed the insurance company where he worked, which struck me at the time as a somehow more appropriate homage.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:46 PM | Comments (1)

October 02, 2003


I'd meant to mention this post by Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind, calling attention to a point made by Christopher Hitchens on al Qaeda and its allies in Slate (it should be noted that Geitner credited Clayton Cramer with first pointing this bit from Hitchens out):

The most toxic and devotional rhetoric of these Islamic gangsters is anti-Semitism. And what does anti-Semitism traditionally emphasize? Why, the moving of secret money between covert elites in order to achieve world domination! The crazed maps of future Muslim conquest that are pictured by the propaganda of jihad and that show the whole world falling to future Muslim conquest are drawn in shady finance-houses and hideaways of stolen gold and portable currency, in the capital cities of paranoid states, and are if anything emulations of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion rather than negations of them.

This reminded me of something I'd read before, but, since I couldn't recall where I'd left the book, I let it pass. Today I found it -- Norman Cohn's work Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The work is a history of the Protocols, tracing its origins, its spread from country to country, and its influence. Cohn offers about as thorough a debunking as possible (although Umberto Eco did add one fascinating detail about its precursors in an essay contained in Six Walks in the Fictional Woods). He covers a great deal of ground, including details of the lawsuit brought in Berne in 1934 against Nazi-sympathizing distributors the Protocols. In writing of Hitler's relation to the Protocols, Cohn makes a point quite similar to that of Hitchens:

...to what extent did Hitler and his immediate associates model themselves on the Elders of Zion? According to Rauschning he took the Protocols as his primer for politics; and in the 1930s three whole books were written to show how in almost every particular Nazi policy followed the plan laid down there. The argument can be pushed too far, but that does not mean it is wholly false. It is worth reflecting on two more recent judgments. 'The Nazis,' writes Hannah Arendt, 'started with the fiction of a conspiracy and modelled themselves, more or less conciously, after the secret society of the Elders of Zion...', while Leon Poliakov comments that the Nazi leaders began by drugging themselves with sensational sub-literature of the type of the Protocols and ended by translating these morbid fantasies into a reality terrible beyond imagining. There is a good deal in this. The ruthless struggle of a band of conspirators to achieve world-domination -- a world-empire based on a small but highly organized and regimented people -- utter contempt for humanity at large -- a glorying in destruction and mass misery -- all these things are to be found in the Protocols, and they were of the very essence of the Nazi regime. To put it with all due caution: in this preposterous fabrication from the days of the Russian pogroms Hitler heard the call of a kindred spirit, and he responded to it with all his being.

I noted before, briefly, an aversion to comparing contemporary mainstream American political figures to Hitler. There is, I think, good reason for that.

Note: at the end of Cohn's work, he gives a bibliography of translations of the Protocols, tracing the appearance and some of the larger reprintings around the globe. Thus, we see an edition in Russia in 1903; an edition in Russian printed in Berlin in 1911, in New York in 1921, and in Paris in 1927; German translations in Germany and Austria in 1919; an English translation in London in 1920 and in Boston and New York the same year, and so on. Poland 1920, Hungarian 1922, Romanian 1923, and so on. Cohn adds a note of his own: "The above list covers only the period to 1945, and is not complete even for that period. For instance, the Arabic editions, of which there were several already in the 1920s and 1930s, are not included..." While googling the Berne trial (my search terms were Berne Trial Protocols), I came across this site, which tells us,

Radio Islam is working to promote better relations between the West and the Muslim World. Radio Islam is against racism of all forms, against all kinds of discrimination of people based on their colour of skin, faith or ethnical bakground. Consequently, Radio Islam is against Jewish racism towards non-Jews.

World Jewish Zionism, today, constitutes the last racist ideology still surviving and the Zionist's state of Israel, the last outpost of "Apartheid" in the World.

In attempting to tell us what the Protocols are, the author (who argues for their authenticity) manages to show herself the equal of the chief defense witness in the Berne trial, whom Cohn neatly described: "Frustrated, resentful, politically illiterate, he was indeed ideally qualified to become a champion of the Protocols."

Consider this sentence, from a section on Gershom Scholem, who introduced the modern world to Jewish mysticism, and traced its relationship to both Christian and Islamic beliefs:

Scholem tells how from 1500 to 1800 the Zohar was "a source of doctrine and revelation equal in authority to the Bible and Talmud" (p.7). Then it became less known to "the broad masses" until the 18th century: "the Jewish Enlightenment again brought it into prominence, seeking to make it an active force in its own struggle...supplementing the Bible and Talmud on a new level of religious consciousness". The ZOHAR is termed "the mystical-theosophical interpretation of Scripture" (p. 20) which simply means converting the Old Testament into a glorification of voodoo paganism and sex-worship.

I've read a fair amount of Scholem, and can honestly report that there's very little in the way of voodoo paganism or sex-worship...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:41 PM | Comments (3)


Through the magic of blogdom, I'm posting this after the blog entry below, which I'm still working on while listening to the Red Sox and A's go to the top of the tenth. I'm listening to the game on the radio, which to my mind is the best way to experience a game you can't see in person.

I'm pulling for the Sox, and in the National League for the Cubs. I remember asking a wizened old-timer what would would happen if Boston and Chicago met in the World Series. "It would go seven games," he replied, "be tied in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, three-two count, and then the earth would swallow the stadium whole..."

Posted by Ideofact at 01:39 AM | Comments (0)

October 01, 2003

Nation, state

This brief passage, from After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?, by veteran war correspondent Jonathan C. Randall, sums up quite a bit of what I've been thinking about the Kurds lately:

Eternal outsiders, who in this century can only have marveled at the wasted fortunes that the Arab world lavished on Palestinian nationalism, the Kurds are the Middle East's essential poor boys. Deprived, even of their own oil and kept on short rations in one state, their national dress banned in another, their language in still a third, their most basic human and civil rights denied to differing, but often extreme, degrees at various times in various places, the Kurds have resisted assimilation with a constancy confounding their would-be masters. They have survived the first aerial bombing in the Third World, poison gas, the deliberate leveling of their rural society in Iraq, mass destruction of villages and forced deportation to the western cities of Turkey, and the assassination of their leaders in Iran.

I've toyed on and off with a post that begins, more or less, like this:

A people with ancient ties to their homeland, long pre-dating the borders imposed on them by Europeans at the end of the First World War and the political developments that occurred in a number of countries in the region following the Second World War, are stateless. Beyond their lack of political autonomy, their very existence as a distinct people, with a unique history and culture, is denied by their occupiers. Their homes have been destroyed, their cities occupied. Deprived of a state of their own, they have been persecuted in their own lands or forced to flee, their refugees dispersed throughout the Middle East and beyond, ffrom campaigns of collective punishment that verge (some would argue that are) genocidal in nature.

Of course, I was referring to the Kurds. I don't mean to score cheap rhetorical points, only to make an observation and to confess to a bias I think I have whenever I hear or read people using the word "Zionist" as if it were a dirty word, or an altogether intellectually indefensible movement. The idea of Zionism was, if I'm not mistaken, that without a state of their own -- one which could accept refugees, one that could protest to other nations the mistreatment of their people -- the Jews would be defenseless, and dependent upon the kindness of strangers (and we all know how well that worked out in the 30s and 40s). That doesn't mean I'm necessarily entirely unsympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, but I find it hard to take seriously those who say that the problems of the Middle East cannot be resolved until Palestinian complaints are resolved in their favor, but have little or nothing to say about the Kurds.

The terms are confused, and I imagine the numbers may well be unreliable, but there were something like 100,000 Kurdish Jews (I'm not quite sure if that means Jews who lived among the Kurds, or Kurds who adopted Judaism) in Kurdistan. Most of them fled to Israel after 1948. In the book Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, we find this from an interview with a Kurdish Jew:

In our city, Aqra, and in Mosul, conditions were excellent for Jews. The Jews and the Kurds identified with one another. They both had enemies, "sonim" -- literally "haters" -- nations that hate them. The Jews did not have a state and neither did the Kurds. We emigrated to Israel because we were Zionists, not at all because of what was going on in Kurdistan.

And then there is this:

The relationship between the Jews in my village and the Muslims in neighboring villages was excellent, but there was a great change in the early 1940s. The Arabs had developed a strong relationship with the Nazis, and that had its effect on the relationship between the Jews and Muslims in Kurdistan.

Both speak of their hardships in Israel, of going from their stable villages to the bottom of Israeli society, with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs. Yet if one compares this to the photos of Kurds trudging along a mountain pass toward the Turkish border -- weary mothers carrying babies, men doing their best to comfort young children -- knowing they are fleeing from one country that wishes to kill them to another country that does not want them, or to the photos of the flattened town of Qala Diza in northern Iraq, where 70,000 Kurds once lived, or to the graves of those killed by the chemical attacks in the town of Goktapa, you begin to realize how lucky -- despite everything they had to suffer -- the Kurdish Jews were.

They at least had a place to go, a homeland they had never visited, that they did not know, that did not know them, but that would protect them, that they would protect.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)