February 29, 2004

Nooses

After having put it aside for a while, I picked up Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, about Michael Servetus, who was burned in Calvin's Geneva for heresy. Like most popular works of history, it is riddled with the usual errors -- the book claims that Greek replaced Latin as the scholarly language of Western Europe in the 16th century; that Erasmus never questioned Catholic orthodoxy (see here for some fairly serious questioning); that France banned translations of the Bible into Hebrew and Greek (unless they were banning translations of the New Testament into Hebrew and the Old Testament into Greek) -- the list goes on. There are also the usual attempts to evaluate historical figures according to modern values -- sometimes absurdly so. Marguerite de Navarre is reduced to "a twentieth-century feminist trapped in the prejudice and sexual politics of the sixteenth." Apparently, she burnt her bodice, but the Church hierarchy assumed it was because the bodice was heretical, thus missing the whole point of the exercise.

Things get even more laughable when he get to Calvin, who apparently decided to become arguably the most important figure of the Reformation (although Luther has a strong claim on the title) out of a fit of pique after the sales of a commentary he wrote on Seneca were less than he had expected.

As for Servetus, so far he's hardly mentioned at all (and I'm about half way through it). One oddity: the authors assume that Servetus' heresy represented a threat to Calvin, that Servetus, who had no followers, would threaten Calvin, who had tens of thousands. And this, of course, is because Servetus' heresy involved a much more modern apprehension of Christianity than dusty old Calvin. No doubt bodice-burners all over Europe were eager to throw off the trinity and join Servetus' movement.

For my part, I can't help recalling the lines of Voltaire on the subject:

Calvin and his henchmen, wathced for by the law,

In Paris went to effigy.

Servetus was immolated in person by Calvin.

If Servetus had been sovereign in Geneva

He would, as an argument against his adversaries,

Have had the necks of the Trinitarians squeezed in nooses.

Addendum: I corrected the spelling of "Margeurite" above, and would like to point out that the Voltaire lines quoted above come from Bernard Cottret's work Calvin: A Life. No, I don't know my Voltaire that well. I do find it interesting that, with some frequency, Islamists and those who practice Occidentalism cite Voltaire's criticisms of Islam as being fairly typical of European hostility to the faith. Voltaire was critical of religion, period, and Islam enjoyed no particular pride of place among his targets.

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

February 26, 2004

Passion

Judith Weiss seems to have assembled a one stop shopping spot for links on Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ. Oddly, she didn't include this review from my personal favorite movie critic, James Bowman. A few words on Bowman -- I've seen several movies he's liked, and never been disappointed in the least. That said, I've also seen quite a few he's panned, and enjoyed them, although more often than not I find if he doesn't like something, I don't. That being said, when you have a five year old, and baby sitting is not something you can arrange at the drop of a hat, having a discerning critic whose recommendations you trust is certainly a boon.

I doubt that I'll get a chance to see the film on the big screen, but that doesn't really bother me. I've read the book, after all.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

Anniversary

Today is the two year anniversary of Ideofact (here's the first ever post). I don't know that I ever expected to keep this going so long -- I figured I'd keep going as long as it felt like fun. The last two nights I just didn't feel up to posting -- it was not so much that I didn't want to write, rather that actual work intruded, and by the time I finished the actual work, I had no energy for this effort. I might slow down a bit in the next year, but there is one thing I've been itching to do for a while. I've added a new category to go along with Essays, Apocrypha and Ephemera (actually, I do categorize all the posts that way; maybe someday I'll bother to display it somehow).

Thanks to all the readers who've stopped by here, to the commenters, to the bloggers who've linked me, and to those who have emailed me -- you've made this hobby worth the while over the past two years.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:15 PM | Comments (9)

February 23, 2004

Blogging in the shade of Qutb

I was going to continue the series on Sayyid Qutb's work Milestones tonight, perhaps exploring further with the theme of urbanization and sexuality discussed in the last entry. (I was going to make a comparison to a passage I believe I read in The Peasants of Languedoc. I'll write that post eventually, but I wanted to stand back for a moment, to consider why I've spent so much time writing about Qutb, to provide some sort of account of my intentions.

I've mentioned this before, but I'll do so again: A few months after Sept. 11, a few weeks before the Taliban were toppled, I heard a fairly prominent journalist deliver some remarks on the state of politics, the war, and so on. He castigated the American government for shallowness in its dealings with the Taliban, and said something to the effect that he didn't see U.S. officials reading the Qur'an, and if you wanted to understand the Taliban (or al Qaeda or bin Laden), you had to understand the Qur'an. I was repulsed by the statement; it seemed to me that the government had a far better grasp of what lay behind Sept. 11 than this reporter, who, I presume, would also suggest that if one wanted to understand Timothy McVeigh, who quoted Thomas Jefferson's line about the tree of liberty needing to be watered with blood, it was necessary to study the ideas of the sage of Monticello.

Beyond that, to understand the Qur'an is no easy thing. Given the wide range of beliefs and theologies that Muslims held and hold, it is fair to say that there is as diverse a range of opinion about the Qur'an as there is among Christians about the Bible. There are something like one billion Muslims in the world; if it were their religious duty to share the Taliban's murderous ideology or bin Laden's nihilism, the world would be in for considerably more bloodshed than we've seen to date. It strikes me as absurdly unnecessary to point out that this is not the case.

Sayyid Qutb has been described as the "brains of Osama," the creator of the basic narrative which bin Laden follows (Qutb's brother, Muhammad, tutored bin Laden). I started blogging on Social Justice in Islam on paleo ideofact (Zack of Procrastination has been kind enough to index the posts, as has Aziz at Unmedia), and have now launched into Milestones, which I think I'm about half way through. I've also tried to follow the excerpts that ArabNews.com publishes of In the Shade of the Qur'an, Qutb's epic work of Qur'anic exegisis, but the fragments published give little sense of how the whole work hangs together (see here and here for examples). All this is a roundabout way of saying my knowledge of Qutb is limited to what I've read by him and what I've read, in a handful of works, about him.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that A few ideas worth summing up from various posts: Qutb divides the world into Jahliyya, the state of ignorance that prevailed in pre-Islamic Arabia, and the Islamic state. It's interesting to note that Qutb labels as Jahliyya every state in existence at the time he wrote Milestones, as well as all the historical ones, save the Islamic realm under the Prophet and the first four rightly guided caliphs. Qutb thus rejects the fruits of Islamic civilization's golden age -- when Muslim polities stretched from Spain to India -- as inauthentic. For example, he considers Avicenna and Averroes to be primarily Greek philosophers, not Islamic philosophers with an interest in Greek authors, and argued in Social Justice in Islam that their works and legacy should be excluded from Muslim schools.

I could go on, but I've written much of this before. The problem with blogging, and particularly exchanges in comments on blogs, is that it's easy to lose one's thread, to confuse writing about Qutb with writing about Islam (particularly when some commenters assume the two are the same thing). It is not my intention to critique a faith, but rather to delve into the ideas of someone who argues that he speaks for that faith.

I've been reading the very uneven work Islam & Jihad: Prejudice Versus Reality by A. G. Noorani. He approvingly quotes Karen Armstrong, who contrasts Qutb's rhetoric of force with Islamic tradition and practice:

Qutb's vision of exclusion and separation goes against this accepting tolerance. The Koran categorically and with great emphasis insisted that "There shall be no coercion in matters of faith." Qutb qualified this; there could only be toleration after the political victory of Islam and the establishment of a true Muslim state.

She adds, "By making jihad central to the Muslim vision, Qutb had in fact distorted the Prophet's life."

I'm interested largely in those distortions, and their consequences.

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

February 22, 2004

2 Qutb 7d

I've come to the conclusion that the answer to the question I posed in the last post of this series is a qualified "I'm not sure." I don't think sex, or more broadly, the status of women, was necessarily the driving animus of Qutb's theories. But there's grounds for raising the question, which I'll deal with here.

To begin with, as Nazih Ayubi points out in Political Islam, in some Islamist discourse, "the obsession with sex, women and the human body is so strong that it borders on the pathological." Ayubi considers this to be a fringe phenomenon among Islamists, and quotes a fatwa (the issuer is not named) that says it is "religiously prohibited for a woman to look at the thigh of her daughter, sister, mother, neighbor or friend, in a bathroom or anywhere." Ayubi also quotes a Hasan Hanafi, described as an Islamist by Ayubi but as espousing a blend of Nasserism and Islam here (it's possible they're both right -- Hanafi might have changed his views since Ayubi's work was published in 1989), as saying that the Islamism is primarily,

...a sexual perception of the world: they start with the veil, with segregation and turning the eye away and turning the voice down. [Yet] the larger the veil, the greater the desire to recognize what it hides! There is more to social and political life than such a sexual perception of social relations that classifies a citizen [only] into man and woman, male and female ... Such a classification might not signify a virtue, but may indicate a repressed sexual desire and a sublimated sexual deprivation.

The Qutb passage from the seventh chapter of Milestones bears repeating:

If the family is the basis of the society, and the basis of the family is the division of labor between husband and wife, and the upbringing of children is the most important function of the family, then such a society is indeed civilized. In the Islamic system of life, this kind of a family provides the environment under which human values and morals develop and grow in the new generation; these values and morals cannot exist apart from the family unit. If, on the other hand, 97 free sexual relationships and illegitimate children become the basis of a society, and if the relationship between man and woman is based on lust, passion and impulse, and the division of work is not based on family responsibility and natural gifts; if woman's role is merely to be attractive, sexy and flirtatious, and if woman is freed from her basic responsibility of bringing up children; and if, on her own or under social demand, she prefers to become a hostess or a stewardess in a hotel or ship or air company, thus spending her ability for material productivity rather than in the training of human beings, because material production is considered to be more important, more valuable and more honorable than the development of human character, then such a civilization is 'backward' from the human point of view, or 'jahili' in the Islamic terminology.

Note: I assume the "97" in the above passage is superfluous -- perhaps a page number that inadvertently got included in the text -- but I thought I'd reproduce the text exactly as it appears, and "97 free sexual relationships" does have a certain ring to it. In any case, compare Qutb's rhetoric to this passage from Ayubi's work:

Recent migrations to the cities usually force the family to change its habitat from the cosy, enclosed courtyard life of the extended family in the rural village and the traditional country town, to the 'exposed' environment of apartments or rooms in larger buildings, where main facilities are frequently shared, and where female contact with the outside world is required for shopping and other necessary activities. The daughters eventually go to school, which means that they have to walk or use public transport; indeed the wife or the daughters may have to go to work to enable the family to cope with the burdens of urban life and its higher consumerism. The patriarchal head of the family would thus feel his dignity eroded for being unable fully to support his family and for having to allow them to work for or with other males. The verbal semi-sexual abuse that these women may receive on the way to or from work, and the fondling of their bodies that may occur on public transport and in other crowded areas, will most probably injure his masculine dignity and impart the feeling that he has turned into a cuckold or a pimp...

The urban experience is not necessarily more attractive for the female, who has to go through all these undignified happenings, who now has to compete with all the other working women in looking 'presentable' (which means higher expenditure on clothes and cosmetics, in crushing financial circumstances), and who very often has to hand over her earnings to her husband at the end of the day/month -- for he often regards this as his right in return for allowing her to go to work in the first place!

I think the juxtaposition is revealing, and also a bit mundane. I vaguely recall reading about the pre-industrial revolution history of Europe, various laws and economic realities reducing the ability of the peasantry to engage in small-scale above-subsistence farming (because elsewhere, large scale for-profit farming was going on), movement to towns and cities, later marriages for both men and women, a literature of cuckoldry developing, and social unrest, sometimes exploding into violence. There is nothing unique to the Arab world about the phenomena that either Qutb or Ayubi describes, in other words. Not even the failure of Arab social institutions (governments, civil society, etc.) to cope with such difficulties is unheard of. It's not even unusual for a would-be social reformer to look at such difficulties and assume a new ideology for all mankind is required. That way, of course, is the path to madness, but that discussion can wait for another day.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:59 PM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2004

Hope springs eternal

But what's the standard of comparison? That's the sort of inconvenient question I try not to ask when I read a sports story like this one:

Now really is the time for the Phillies to win the NL East.

No excuses.

Come to think of it, those two words wouldn't look bad on a T-shirt.

The No Excuses season of 2004 begins this morning when the best pitching staff the Phillies have assembled in more than a decade takes the field at the Carpenter Complex. (emphasis added)

I don't often write about baseball, but it's something I follow quite closely; because of a conspiracy of geography and youth, I'm an ardent Philadelphia Phillies fan, which many years means the best part of the season is spring training. Still, I'm optimistic (I always am) and, after all, this is the best pitching staff the Phillies have assembled in more than a decade...


Posted by Ideofact at 11:46 PM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2004

Escape in a book

In Marguerite Yourcenar's short story How the painter Wang Fo was saved (available in this collection), the emporer decrees that, before his eyes are put out, the painter will have the opportunity to create one last masterpiece, a seascape, a work the painter had begun but abandoned. Complying with the tyrant's orders, Wang Fo paints, and the room begins to fill with water. A boat appears on the horizon, comes into the foreground; his servant, whom the emporer had just beheaded, beckons to the painter, who wades out to the boat. They make their getaway, certain that the emporer's army will be unable to follow them. "They're not able to escape in a painting," the servant says.

I was reminded about that story by Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, in which the characters escape the totalitarian world of Islamist Iran in an enclosed room, in books.

Reading Lolita in Tehran is not quite like other works on similar themes -- Milosz's Captive Mind or My Century by Aleksander Wat come to mind (I could have mentioned Zbigniew Herbert as well -- three Poles). One of the oddities for me, though, is the importance they attach to Nabokov.

I should point out that I'm quite fond of some of his novels, and don't doubt his talent as a writer. I'm particularly fond of some of his earlier works -- The Eye and Mary (his first novel) left lasting impressions. But whenever I think of Nabokov, I recall his dismissive attitude to Dostoevsky in his Lectures on Russian Literature.

I wish I had the text in front of me; I think Nabokov begins by relegating Dostoevsky to the teen fiction section of bookstores -- "I loved him when I was a kid." He spends a lot of time on Crime and Punishment, and argues that Dostoevsky's writing is morally stunted, even monstrous.

There is a scene in the novel in which Raskolnikov, the murderer (the murderer who murders to become a Napoleon), prays with Sonia, a young woman forced into prostitution to support her broken family. The scene is quite poignant -- Raskolnikov begins to forgive her her degradation, little realizing that he's also taking his first step back from the abyss, back from the kind of impulses that animate, say, a Zarqawi or a bin Laden. Dostoevsky, who originally wrote the novel in the first person, with Raskolnikov as narrator, bends the reader's perceptions to see things through Raskolnikov's eyes; he sees himself as innocent, perhaps frustrated in his goals, perhaps clumsy, but not as immoral. Sonia, on the other hand, who degrades herself solely to feed her siblings, is, in Raskolnikov's universe, a sinner -- and beneath him. Nabokov objects to the narration of the scene; to Dostoevsky's elevation of a cold blooded murderer over a woman forced by material want into prostitution -- truly a monstrous moral judgment. But it's not Dostoevsky making that judgment, but rather Raskolnikov.

And that's the thing about Dostoevsky -- in his books, unlike in the tale by Yourcenar or the novels of Nabokov, there is no escape.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:56 PM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2004

Miscellany

Inspired by the five year old (every day is Halloween here at stately ideofact manor) I started rereading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein over the weekend -- the 1818 edition which I've linked. It's only the second time I've read it, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

I've also been reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi, an Iranian literature professor who quit her university and taught a small, select group of students in her home. I'm only about 60 pages into it, but I'm finding it fascinating. Thanks to the person who recommended it, and I wish I had Nafisi for a professor. (Incidentally, she has a Website here.) I'll offer some thoughts on it a little later.

Finally, Zack of Procrastination offers an interesting post, with links worth following, on the subject of secularism in the Middle East.

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

February 16, 2004

Qutbdate

Sorry, not much of a post tonight. I was bit phased by the discussion on this thread about the Zarqawi letter (the link doesn't seem to be working; you can also find it here). Unless I'm mistaken, my erstwhile commentator Abu Noor al-Irlandee seemed to be indicating that al Qaeda has been misunderstood:

Dan surely knows more about Al-Qaida than I do, but I also think that he is a little willing to attribute anything negative he can to them.

The "negativity" he referred to is Dan's suggestion that Zarqawi's letter showed a "contemptuous (racist?)" attitude toward the Kurds, whom Zarqawi describes as a pain and thorn and suggests that they will be dealt with last, although operations to kill their leaders will be carried out in the meantime (though I think it's unclear who did it, such assassination attempts are ongoing). The reaction of at least one Kurdish writer suggests that if al Qaeda hopes to win hearts and minds among the Kurds, it's following the wrong strategy:

The nature of the terrorist crimes perpetrated by the “incorporated” Islamic extremists and nationalist Arabs leaves no room to be dealt with by civilized means. People who go so far as to exploit and brainwash insane and unstable youth to blow themselves up and take many innocent and decent lives with them are hardcore criminals who have no worthwhile purpose in their lives.

Even though it is expected to see such criminals take advantage of the relaxing atmosphere that democracy provides, it is still difficult to imagine these debased Arab Muslims go as far as taking advantage of religious festivities, good will and hospitality to satisfy their lust for bloodshed and savagery. The twin suicide bombings on the first of this month in Hawler (Irbil) need no further proof to determine the depth of the animosity of these Arab terrorists towards the Kurds, in particular, and mankind in general.

The fact that Islam religion provides ample elasticity in the interpretation of the Quran and Hadeith (Mohammed’s sayings), the deep religious conviction of some Muslims may justify such criminal means to satisfy their religious and nationalist ends. Most Muslims who have been to different mosques and listened to different mullahs are well aware of the fact that the very same Quranic verse can be interpreted to either promote brotherhood and compassion or qualify animosity and murder.

I don't necessarily agree with a lot of the prescriptions offered after that, which seem to have been offered without a great deal of reflection, but I couldn't help noticing these (and again, I don't particularly agree with these):

- Generate strong anti-Islam emotions, as well as nationalist antipathy against the Arabs and their culture

- Encourage many Kurds to abandon Islam, go back to Zoroastrianism and/or embrace either Christianity or Judaism

I'll try to get back to Qutb's Milestones later this week, but I increasingly find it a dreary read compared to other things I'm going through.


Posted by Ideofact at 11:55 PM | Comments (7)

February 14, 2004

Fair comment

I loved this line from the story about official Canada's condemnation of Conan O'Brien and his show's less than respectful attitude to our northern neighbors. I don't watch the show, but apparently there's a hand puppet, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, on the show. Here's how Reuters puts the story into context of another flap going on in Canada:

The complaints over the puppet's comments come on the heels of a similar uproar following criticism of European French-Canadian hockey players on CBC television by the country's best-known sports commentator, Don Cherry.

Though the reporter contacted the network on which the show appears, apparently he made no effort to contact the puppet to allow him to defend himself.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:23 PM | Comments (3)

February 13, 2004

Spiritually homeless

Something I passed over but wanted to mention about The Trouble with Islam: Among the recommendations Irshad Manji makes for her Operation Ijtihad is a universal hajj to Mecca, open to Christians and Jews as well as Muslims. She suggests it would start an interfaith dialogue and the stressing of similarities over differences, and adds

Such discussions, which an Abrahamic hajj would inspire, can bring a universal spirit to Mecca -- a globalism that graces Jerusalem, Rome, and Geneva (the spiritual womb of Protestantism).

It was odd to see Geneva (John Calvin's adopted home) listed with Mecca, Jerusalem and Rome. Though I have a very qualified admiration for some of Calvin's theological ideas, and though I grew up in a denomination that drew heavily on Calvin for its catechism and its teachings, I don't feel any more connection to Geneva than I do, say, to Timbuktu. I certainly don't think of it as a holy city on the order or Jerusalem or Mecca, and if you told me that 75 percent of Genevans are Catholics, or Buddhists for that matter, I doubt I would be much perturbed (and for all I know, Protestantism isn't dominant there -- it would never occur to me to check). I wonder if other Protestants have a different view. Perhaps moreso than other faiths, Protestantism is an austere faith of the mind rather than one that attaches itself emotionally to any particular place. But then, given that I'm rather a lapsed Protestant, I doubt my impressions are particularly representative.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:50 PM | Comments (5)

February 12, 2004

A pain and a thorn

I hadn't seen this highlighted in the Zarqawi letter, allegedly a communication from al Qaeda on its strategy in Iraq, so I thought it worth pointing out:

Kurds these are a pain and a thorn, and it is not time yet to deal with them. They are last on our list, even though we are trying to get to some of their leaders. God willing.

If the letter is genuine, Al Qaeda truly are monsters. The thing that fascinates me about it is that they seem to assume that all they have to do is foment violence, and once they do everything will work out to their advantage. That was the strategy of Sept. 11, and we've all seen how effective it is.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:46 PM | Comments (5)

February 11, 2004

2 Qutb 7c

I begin to wonder whether the translation of Sayyid Qutb's Milestones is authentic, or whether it's been revised to bring it up to date. In the seventh chapter of the work, after establishing that those Muslim countries which have secular religions are in fact jahila -- in a state of ignorance -- and hence, uncivilized -- he turns to an exposition of why the ideal Islamic state -- which does not exist -- is civilized. And that reason, oddly enough, is the family.

I wish I knew Arabic -- I don't, so these remarks are provisional at best. The Latin etymology of the word "civilization" refers to living in cities; when I was an undergraduate, and took a fair number of anthropology and archaeology courses, I recall that human cultures were divided into various categories, ranging from nomadic hunters & collectors to sedentary agriculturists to complex urban (or "civilized") societies with divisions of labor, a literate clerical class, and so on. I think social structures overlay some of these divisions -- bands for the hunters & collectors, tribes and chieftans for the agriculturalists (who enjoyed some specialization) and kings for the city dwellers. It's worth noting that there was an impetus to urbanization among the first generations of Muslims; to some extent, the nomadic practices of the Arabic tribes were linked to Jahiliyyah.

But Qutb doesn't write about cities; he writes about families.

Again, my lack of Arabic may be the cause of my confusion -- perhaps the word translated as "civilization" would better be translated as culture or morality.

In any case, Qutb's critique of the West gave me pause, and led to my questioning whether the work has been revised to take into account new information. Milestones was originally published in 1964 (I believe Qutb was in prison at that point); it may well have been written some years before that. But I found it odd that he wrote,

In all modern jahili societies, the meaning of 'morality' is limited to such an extent that all those aspects which distinguish man from animal are considered beyond its sphere. In these Societies, illegitimate sexual relationships, even homosexuality, are not considered immoral. ...

Among jahili societies, writers, journalists and editors advise both married and unmarried people that free sexual relationships are not immoral. However, it is immoral if a boy uses his partner, or a girl uses her partner, for sex, while feeling no love in his or her heart. It is bad if a wife continues to guard her chastity while her love for her husband has vanished; it is admirable if she finds another lover. Dozens of stories are written about this theme; many newspaper editorials, articles, cartoons, serious and light columns all invite to this way of life.

Leave aside Iran's temporary marriage arrangements, and consider that this is 1964, at the latest, we're talking about. What society, anywhere on the earth, tolerated homosexuality? Where were the columns suggesting boys and girls having sex is okay as long as they love one another? Speaking from my American circumstances, I can recall that the sitcom Three's Company, which premiered some time in the late 1970s, was considered risque because a man shared an apartment with two women and pretended to be gay. Despite the characters' platonic relationship, the show was shocking. I vaguely recall a controversy over an Ann Landers or Dear Abby column approving of premarital sex, but that was in the early or mid-1990s.

In any case, Qutb raises the West only after he has defined the proper type of family:

If the family is the basis of the society, and the basis of the family is the division of labor between husband and wife, and the upbringing of children is the most important function of the family, then such a society is indeed civilized. In the Islamic system of life, this kind of a family provides the environment under which human values and morals develop and grow in the new generation; these values and morals cannot exist apart from the family unit. If, on the other hand, 97 free sexual relationships and illegitimate children become the basis of a society, and if the relationship between man and woman is based on lust, passion and impulse, and the division of work is not based on family responsibility and natural gifts; if woman's role is merely to be attractive, sexy and flirtatious, and if woman is freed from her basic responsibility of bringing up children; and if, on her own or under social demand, she prefers to become a hostess or a stewardess in a hotel or ship or air company, thus spending her ability for material productivity rather than in the training of human beings, because material production is considered to be more important, more valuable and more honorable than the development of human character, then such a civilization is 'backward' from the human point of view, or 'jahili' in the Islamic terminology.

The family system and the relationship between the sexes determine the whole character of a society and whether it is backward or civilized, jahili or Islamic. Those societies which give ascendance to physical desires and animalistic morals cannot be considered civilized, no matter how much progress they may make in industry or science. This is the only measure which does not err in gauging true human progress.

These comments remind me of an unjust line from Flaubert's philosophical dictionary (at least I think it was Flaubert -- my books remain inaccessible as the home renovations continue). He defined "Koran" as a Muslim book about women.

Yesterday, I quoted Nawal's impassioned response to the controversy over women smoking shisha; she wrote, "I have my whole life in front of me. I have always been taught not to limit my potential." Qutb is telling her to limit her potential. An odd thought: for him, perhaps it all comes down to sex, a subject I'll explore in the next post in this series.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:54 PM | Comments (6)

February 10, 2004

Appeal of shisha

A while back, I posted something on an Egyptian government ad campaign aimed at stopping women from smoking the shisha, the "complex smoking apparatus that involves tobacco soaked in molasses -- and often, more recently, flavoured with apple, strawberry or other fruit essence -- whose smoke is filtered through water and into the flexible, hose-like pipe through which it is inhaled," as the article says. I noted, of course, that smoking is bad for you, and also noted that there's nothing wrong with anti-smoking campaigns per se, but it's equally bad for women and men. I didn't note, however, that I on occasion partake of the joys of tobacco, and thoroughly enjoy it. A spartan lifestyle devoid of the occasional pleasure doesn't appeal to me in the least.

So I'm entirely in sympathy with the comment that reader Nawal left on this old post:

Why is it so unclean for women to smoke shisha? Are women made of porcelain? Haven't we the right to pleasure as well as long as it doesn't involve haram? I mean, I wouldn't advise a women or even a man having a child watch them smoke shisha, to begin with it is for adults. But for centuries this has been a male dominated smoke a thon. And many times it was the women who made ready the shisha for their husbands. Take me for example I am a young women. I work, I go to college. I come from a good family. I don't smoke stick tabacco. I keep my lungs clean, but yes I do enjoy sometimes having a hot cup of joe or tea, and inhaling on some fruity flavored smoke. Is this haram? Does this make me not suitable for marriage? Is this an outrage? By no means. I have my whole life in front of me. I have always been taught not to limit my potential. Will me late night shisha inhale exhale prevent me. Never. If one opens their eyes, even have a conversation with a young lady you would understand. It all stems from fear. Fear is what causes your disaprovals. Restriction breads more desire, increased smokers. You will see.

Thanks for the spirited comment, and of course, you're right -- nothing wrong with a little pleasure. I think that's what attracted me to this subject in the first place.

Note: I know I promised another installment on Milestones, but I'm wiped out. Busy day at work, busy night at home. Tomorrow...

Posted by Ideofact at 09:01 PM | Comments (5)

February 09, 2004

Political Islam

I can already tell that the main challenge of commenting on Nazih Ayubi's Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World will be refraining from impinging on his copyright by including too much of the text here. The fact that it's a paperback with an unwieldy spine, making it difficult to prop open while I'm typing, will probably restrain this impulse.

Ayubi wrote his book in 1989, ten years after the Iranian Revolution, and a dozen years before Sept. 11. Here's a quick sample:

...the first issue to confront the Muslim community immediately after the death of its formative leader, Prophet Muhammad, was in fact the problem of government, and Muslims had therefore to innovate and improvise with regard to the form and nature of government. Indeed, the first disagreements that emerged witin the Muslim community (and which lead to the eventual divisions into Sunnis, Kharjites, Shi'is and other sects) were concerned with politics. But theorising about politics was very much delayed, and most of the Islamic political literature available to us seems to have emerged when the political realities that it addressed were on the decline. Furthermore, most of what emerged, at least within the Sunni tradition, was also produced 'in the shadow of the State'. The State had sanctioned a certain 'methodology' of writing, based on linguistic explanation (bayan) and on reasoning by anology (qiyas), and had also sponsored the juridic elite that wrote on political subjects. The result was an elegant and elaborate body of jurisprudence, and a formal theory of the caliphate that, through monopoly and repetition, had become altogether entrenched in the 'Arab mind'.

With the passage of time, subsequent generations have found it extemely difficult to distinguish between what was meant as description and what was meant as prescription within this literature. Furthermore, the elegant body of jurisprudence has been elevated almost to the level of Shari'a (religious law) itself. Today, when most salafis and some fundamentalists call for the implementation of shari'a, what they really have in mind is the implementation of the jurisprudence formulated by the early jurists. THis jurisprudence has now been extracted from its historical and political context, and endowed with essential, everlasting qualities. The point is thus overlooked that the jurisprudence was in the first place a human improvisation meant to address certain political and social issues in a certain historical, geographical and social context. What is also overlooked is that the main body of the official jurisprudence fulfilled a certain political function by imparting religious legitimacy to the government of the day, which had usually come to rule by force or intrigue and which, in its daily conduct, was not generally living up the Islamic ideal.

And that's just a couple of paragraphs from the first few pages -- there are more interesting arguments that follow.

Obviously I'm not going to type the whole book into ideofact, but as I come across things worth mentioning, I'll mention them...

Tommorow: The Qutb series continues.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:59 PM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2004

Faint praise

While I've always loved the notion of damning with faint praise, I suppose there are times when one can offer faint praise as just that. I finished reading The Trouble with Islam by Irshad Manji. There's plenty to quibble over in her book, there are a few substantive issues raised, but I don't think this book is all that much different than one that, say, I -- a nonbeliever -- could have written were I a little less polite. That said, it is an engaging read. I thought the biographical passages were the most interesting things in the book, and I wish there had been more of that. I'm far more excited about reading Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World by Nazih Ayubi, a volume I stumbled across the last time I swung by Borders.

Since then, I've visited two other bookstores with the five year old in tow. At a local Barnes & Noble, I picked up Mr. Bean -- The Animated Series on DVD for him. I don't know how he came to love Mr. Bean, exactly, but when most kids were watching Sesame Street, he was watching Rowan Atkinson's Bean. (I happen to think Bean is one of those archetypal characters made possible by mass media, like Chaplin's little tramp, Bogart's Sam Spade, or Connery's James Bond -- hmm... maybe it's not so hard to figure out who introduced him to the character.) The animated series isn't too bad -- it's not on a par with Spongebob, but it has its clever moments and it's accessible to kids. But it doesn't quite capture the anarchism of the live action Bean, which is a shame.

On our second bookstore visit, he picked a "How to Make Halloween Costumes" book out of the bargain bin; I got Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World, by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. The book is an encomium to Michael Servetus, the 16th century heretic who got burnt at the stake for being, well, a heretic (not that there's anything wrong with that!). Seriously, though, apologists for Calvin argue that Servetus, who denied the trinity, left Calvin no option but to burn him when he (Servetus, that is) showed up in Geneva. Bernard Cottret, whose biography of Calvin is quite good, argued that Calvin saw Servetus largely as a pain in the ass yahoo who kept writing letters insisting on a theological duel over the trinity. According to Cottret, the idea of burning Servetus at the stake was appealing to Calvin only because he too had been accused of denying the trinity; burning Servetus would signal the world (and particularly Rome) that while Protestants and Catholics disagreed, there were certain lines that could not be crossed. In other words, it was politically expedient for the Protestants for Servetus to be reduced to ash.

So how do the Goldstones treat Calvin? Here's how he's introduced:

[Servetus] was found guilty of the charges brought by a council and prosecutor hand picked by his archrival and sworn enemy, Jean Chauvin, an obscure failed humanist who had reinvented himself as the reformer Jean Calvin and risen to be virtual dictator of a great city.

Leave aside the fact that Geneva (with a maximum population of roughly 20,000 in the 16th century -- a fraction of that of Rome, Paris or London) was hardly a great city. Calvin was hardly the sworn enemy of Servetus, or for that matter, a "failed humanst." I suppose I'm in for a polemical treat with this work -- I suspect that the five year old will find more utility in his purchase than I will in mine.

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

February 07, 2004

Intent

Meryl Yourish quoted an interesting post that further attempted to delineate the uniqueness of the Holocaust relative to other episodes of mass slaughter sanctioned by a state, particularly those carried out by Josef Stalin. I am already on record as having said I agree with the notion that the Holocaust was unique; that the attempt of Hitler and the Nazis to exterminate Jews was an atrocity and a horror unmatched by Stalin.

Still, I found this bit interesting:

...Stalin was a paranoid narcissist who used the political veil of socialism as a means for exercising raw political power. He singled out no particular race, and it would be foolish to believe that he actually cared about class beyond the veneer of political legitimacy it leant to his reign of terror.

My own view is that this is entirely unsupported by the historical record -- Stalin had an oft-stated ideology, a clear Weltanschauung, which informed his actions. The terror famine in the Ukraine, for example, was perpetrated as part of the effort to collectivize Soviet agriculture. From early on, the Bolsheviks recognized that mass murder would be part of their program to create the new Soviet man -- in the early 1920s, Zinoviev estimated that something like 10 percent of the population would have to be liquidated to accomplish this end.

Interestingly, a series of historians and commentators argued that the dictator for whom ideology played no part, for whom the will to power was everything, who was willing to compromise on ideological point if it would further his grip on power, was Adolf Hitler. Ebergard Jaeckel, in Hitler's World View, lists, by my count, no fewer than 13 historians -- including luminaries like Alan Bullock and George Lukacs -- who argued that Hitler had no ideology or principles beyond his will to power. Obviously, that's not true -- Hitler did have a coherent ideology and world view, a monstrous one to be sure.

As did Stalin, for that matter (and an ideology of a far more respectable pedigree, even today among academics).

One needn't diminish the role that ideology played in Stalin's crimes to maintain the uniqueness of the Holocaust.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:44 PM | Comments (4)

February 06, 2004

Defector

Maybe it's just a bad translation. This story, linked by Drudge earlier in the day, is about a German game show called the "Judas Game," in which someone tries to convince the audience he's honest. Understandably, Jewish groups are upset at the insensitivity -- you could just as easily call the show the Confidence Game (the great German writer Thomas Mann wrote a novella and a novel called the Confidence Man) and get the same point across. What caught my eye was the bizarre identifcation of Judas:

Judas is the name of the man recorded in the New Testament as defecting from Jesus.

"Defecting" from Jesus? Who is he, Kim Philby? Did he sell out the plans for the Lord's Supper for some frankincense?

I can understand the desire to have language that doesn't incite -- why not this: "According to the Gospels, Judas was the disciple of Jesus who betrayed him. Though Judas was a Christian, over the centuries after the crucifixion many Christian theologians cited his Jewish heritage to justify their anti-Semitism."

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

February 05, 2004

Death in Kurdistan

This post will be insufficient, but for what it's worth: as I've read about the Kurds and their struggles, the great injustices done to them, I think more and more of the Orwell line about symbol of the 20th century: the boot of the fascist treading on the human face. Despite the boot, the Kurds manage to retain their faces, their humanity, and their empathy with their fellow humans. A while back, I mentioned how much I had enjoyed a series of articles written by Sivan Amedi, a Kurdish journalist who wrote a travelogue of sorts on his trip through the Middle East and to Kurdistan. I'd try to sum up the earlier post, but it's probably better to read it; suffice it to say that it has nothing to do with what follows.

Amedi emailed me this link, about the recent suicide attacks in Kurdish Iraq:

...these attacks took place in Hewler (Irbil), the seat of the Iraqi Kurdistan National Assembly. The Hewler offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were attacked by suicide bombers almost simultaneously as many people were gathered to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. I soon received news that among the dead was Shakhawan Abbas and reacted with sadness, rage, confusion, and disbelief. Some reports indicate that the suicide bomber who struck the PUK headquarters shook kak Shakhawan’s hand and then detonated himself; he was the highest ranking official to be killed in the attack on this building.

I confess to being an ignorant American. I know little about kak Shakhawan. I recommend reading the piece, but I'll end by quoting his conclusion:

Kurdistan has always had a wealth of enemies. Those who perpetrated this crime against humanity have accomplished nothing save strengthening the resolve of the Kurdish nation to fight for freedom, human rights, democracy, and self determination. The Kurdish movement, the Kurdish love for live and freedom, is immortal. Generations of martyrs have given their lives for this cause. My dear friend kak Shakhawan has joined the ranks of these martyrs whose undying memories give the Kurdish nation strength. Kurdistan has many martyrs, but none have died in vain.

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

February 04, 2004

Other voices

I'm going to take a break from Qutb for at least one night, to try to get caught up on comments, but I thought I'd point out a few posts well worth reading.

Both Meryl Yourish and Lynn B. of In Context both offer rebukes to writers questioning the uniqueness of the Holocaust. They have both written so well, I have little to add, beyond recommending the posts.

Some time ago, I readi an interview with the great historian Robert Conquest, who did as much as any Westerner to document the horrors of Soviet totalitarianism, including the Ukrainian terror-famine and the terror proper. Conquest, who'd engaged in a number of battles with apologists for Stalin by pointing out that he was a mass murderer, was asked who represented the greater evil in the 20th century: Hitler or Stalin. He answered Hitler; I seem to recall that he said he had thought about the question a great deal, that he didn't mean to diminish Stalin's barbarity, but Hitler's evil was in a class of its own.

I'd been meaning to mention it for a while, but Zack of Procrastination offered an interesting review of A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin. One quibble with Zack -- I do think there was a significant moral difference between the Allied powers and their enemies. I think Michael Howard's brief work, The First World War, explains this rather well, including why, by the time Wilson got to Versailles, he himself was no longer much interested in the terms for peace he had offered in the famous Fourteen Points.

I'm reading The Trouble with Islam, the book by Irshad Manji, the Uganda-born, Canada-raised, Pakistani gay Muslim Muslim-Refusenik. (She gives Andrew Sullivan a run for his money in apparent contradictions; Sullivan, incidentally, reviewed her book. I'm only a few dozen pages into it, but I have to say I'm enjoying it -- she writes with verve, and while I suspect some passages were written with the intent to offend her co-religionists' sensibilities, I think that, compared to say Bernard Shaw's preface to Androcles and the Lion, this is pretty timid stuff. In any case, I may offer a fuller account when I get through it.

Finally, while googling the other day, I came across this piece on the Muslim Brotherhood, in al-Ahram. It's an interesting article, but I'd take a lot of it with a grain of salt. I found this paragraph of interest:


The MB maintained its organisational cohesiveness and political influence because it was ready to change as needed. When its aim was to rally broad support during the 1930s, the MB developed a discourse of piety and charity that appealed to the public mood. When it wanted to benefit from the political openness of the 1980s, the MB abandoned the violent discourse of Sayyid Qutb, their leading doctrinaire. Eventually, the group was able to turn its organisational structure into a peaceful one, adopting a discourse that mixes politics with a serving of the divine. Now, the violent discourse of the 1930s is but a faded memory.

Again, I'd take all this with a grain of salt -- al Ahram is the product of a country with no freedom of the press, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Qutb, were and are opponents of the regime. Still, the characterization of the discourse as violent is interesting. Elsewhere, the story discusses the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, which various levels of initiation (perhaps it was modeled after the diabolical Freemasons...)

The MB founders had a fourth type of membership separate from the above: jihad membership. Membership was reserved for active members hand-picked by the Guidance Bureau (Maglis al-irshad). Jihad brothers -- in addition to the aforementioned commitments -- are required to follow the Prophet's traditions, perform extra nighttime prayers, lead austere lives, avoid anything un-Islamic in worship and business, make financial contributions to the Guidance Bureau and the Call Fund, bequeath part of their estate to the MB, exhort pious behaviour and discourage sinful behaviour, carry a copy of the Qur'an at all times and undergo extra education sponsored by the Guidance Bureau. While the overall differentiation in recruitment levels was significant, jihad, "associate" and "active" members all might have professed loyalty to the MB's peaceful agenda.

....

These two levels of organisational structure -- a peaceful one including the majority of the MB, and a militant one preparing a minority of members for armed conflict, without openly inciting them -- were at the basis of the MB's dualist embrace of general as well as special cadres. An "invisible" and "parallel" outfit thus evolved after 1940 in conjunction with the main MB apparatus. While MB insiders referred to the former as the special outfit (al-tanzim al-khas), outsiders preferred to call it simply the secret outfit (al- tanzim al-sirri).

According to Mahmoud Abdel-Halim, a co- founder of the special outfit, the MB managed to stay in full control of the special outfit for about eight years after its founding. Reaction to the domestic social and political scene as well as regional events surrounding the 1948 Palestine War eventually led to divisions between the special outfit and the rest of the organisation.

The training programme of the special outfit involved the following:

1. Members were divided into groups, with a clear chain of command, and ordered to participate in all aspects of MB public activities.

2. Members were instructed to engage in careful study of jihad in Islam, focussing on Qur'anic passages, Sayings of the Prophet and Classical Islamic history. They were also ordered to follow a strict regimen of worship and prayers.

3. Members were trained to perform strenuous manual labour, distribute propaganda leaflets, use coded messages and weapons.

4. Members were trained to unquestioningly obey orders and keep secrets.

Members of the special outfit were unleashed during the 1948 Palestine War. Domestically they placed bombs in Cairo, occasionally targeting Egyptian Jews and Jewish- owned shops. In an operation that drew much local attention, two members of the special outfit assassinated Ahmed El-Khazendar, a prominent judge who had sent to prison a fellow member for attacking British soldiers at a nightclub. State backlash was relatively mild compared to what would become the norm during the republican years. The two were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. El-Banna was detained briefly but released for lack of evidence.

I found the whole thing of interest...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:53 PM | Comments (1)

Qutbnote

I should both thank Demosophia for the kind plug of my ramblings on Qutb, and note that he's offered some thoughtful commentary of his own, as has Regnum Crucis. For the record, I tend to think Milestone isn't quite Das Kapital or Mein Kampf -- it's closer to the Communist Manifesto, although that comparison is a bit inapt as well. Maybe it's closest in theme to Lenin's What is to be Done? For a very interesting post on Qutb's European influences, let me recommend Newsrack Blog's discussion of Qutb and Alexis Carrel, a French surgeon, mystic, and eugenicist who Qutb apparently read a lot.


Posted by Ideofact at 12:00 AM | Comments (4)

February 03, 2004

2 Qutb 7b

I suppose I shouldn't be flip, and suggest that, in the seventh chapter of Sayyid Qutb's work Milestones, the theorist of Islamism argues that the institution of Shariah is essential to save the world from the twin scourges of flirting and stewardesses. I'm getting way ahead of myself, though, so let me begin with the beginning -- actually, with a few quotes from previous chapters.

In the fifth chapter, Qutb tells us,

The jahili society is any society other than the Muslim society; and if we want a more specific definition, we may say that any society is a jahili society which does not dedicate itself to submission to God alone, in its beliefs and ideas in its observances of worship, and in its legal regulations.

According to this definition, all the societies existing in the world today are jahili.

Rhetorically, this is a fairly useful device for Qutb: his ideology cannot be blamed for any of the failures -- political, military, economic or cultural -- of the Islamic world. And really, until the accession to power in Iran of the Islamists of the Ayatollah Khomeini (it's worth noting that Qutb speaks highly of the politicization of the Imams of 1950s Iran in Social Justice in Islam), Qutb's system was untried. That it hasn't been a spectacular success in Iran doesn't seem to deter too many of Qutb's supporters. Perhaps that's because, as Qutb tells us in the sixth chapter,

Man cannot understand all the laws of the universe, nor can he comprehend the unity of this system; he cannot even understand the laws which govern his own person, from which he cannot deviate by a hair's breadth.

So if Iranian women are showing a bit too much hair under their headscarfs, all is lost...

In the seventh chapter of Milestones, Qutb tells us that Islam is the real civilization, and goes on to explain why. It is this explanation that I alluded to above, but before we get to that, there is Qutb's preamble -- yet another denunciation of jahili societies (that is, all of them).

He rejects societies organized on a materialist basis, according to scientific socialism. I suspect he's referring to the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc here, but scientific socialism also enjoyed a modest vogue in the brief period when Arab nationalism held sway. He also rejects the secular/sacred division of the west; he writes (oddly)

In this society, people are permitted to go to mosques, churches and synagogues; yet it does not tolerate people's demanding that the Shari'ah of God be applied in their daily affairs. Thus, such a society denies or suspends God's sovereignty on earth, while God says plainly:

"It is He Who is Sovereign in the heavens and Sovereign in the earth." (43:84)

You too might have missed the clamor for Shari'ah from California to the New York Island. I suspect that Qutb is here referring either to countries like Lebanon, which was a fairly tolerant place when he was writing, or to the Arab nationalist states, which based their calls to hegemony on the Arab ethnic identity, seeking to co-opt Christian Arabs into the mix.

That Qutb is not referring to secular Europe or the United States seems clear; he later writes,

A society which places the highest value on the 'humanity' of man and honors the noble 'human' characteristics is truly civilized. If materialism, no matter in what form, is given the highest value, whether it be in the form of a 'theory', such as in the Marxist interpretation of history, or in the form of material production, as is the case with the United States and European countries, and all other human values are sacrificed at its altar, then such a society is a backward one, or, in Islamic terminology, is a 'jahili society'.

Qutb goes on to explain some of the noble "human" characteristics of the Islamist state, which will be the subject of the next post in this series...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:50 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2004

2 Qutb 7a

Reading Qutb is a dreary business. Over the weekend, while my wife shopped for furniture, I got to entertain the five year old. One stop was our favorite bookstore; he picked a few books on his favorite subjects, which include ghosts, pirates and mummies. I bought George Bernard Shaw's Caesar & Cleopatra. I already had a copy of it -- the one my father bought when he was in college, complete with his doodles on the back cover -- but it's falling apart and packed away during the ongoing renovations here at stately ideofact manor, and I'd been thinking a lot about Shaw lately.

I won't try to say anything profound about Shaw here; I will say that both his Caesar and his Cleopatra seem as real to me as people I know; Shaw evokes both middle age and the first bloom of maturity with equal panache.

I thought of Shaw in part because Qutb quotes him approvingly in Social Justice in Islam; Shaw, a committed socialist, wrote approvingly of the duty Islam imposes on the faithful to care for the poor and the elderly of society. I somehow doubt Shaw would have cared for much of the Shariah. I can offer a few quotes to back this up, although regrettably, not until the home renovations are completed and I can unpack my books.

I thought of Shaw when reading the first two paragraphs of the seventh chapter of Qutb's Milestones. (Be forewarned -- in the seventh chapter, we get the first mention of America, a plea for the institution of Shariah to prevent the twin scourges of flirting and stewardesses, and much else. I'm absolutely not promising anything, but we may go from a to d, just on the seventh chapter...)

Qutb, who quotes Shaw so approvingly -- the very same Shaw who no doubt saw in Islam as a useful tool for the advocacy of his pet political program -- begins this chapter (well, actually it's the second paragraph) by writing,

The Islamic society is not one in which people call themselves 'Muslims' but in which the Islamic law has no status, even though prayer, fasting and Hajj are regularly observed; and the Islamic society is not one in which people invent their own version of Islam, other than what God and His Messenger-peace be on him-have prescribed and explained, and call it, for example, 'progressive Islam'.

Shaw was certainly not espousing progressive Islam, or Islam proper for that matter. Odd that Qutb nevertheless cites him in Social Justice. Shaw was, however, interested in progress, something which Qutb eschews altogether.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:55 PM | Comments (8)

February 01, 2004

2 Qutb 6

In the sixth chapter of Sayyid Qutb's Milestones, the Islamist thinker extols the universal law of Sharia. He adds,

Man cannot understand all the laws of the universe, nor can he comprehend the unity of this system; he cannot even understand the laws which govern his own person, from which he cannot deviate by a hair's breadth. Thus he is incapable of making laws for a system of life which can be in complete harmony with the universe or which can even harmonize his physical needs with his external behavior. This capability belongs solely to the Creator of the universe and of men, Who not only controls the universe but also human affairs, and Who implements a uniform law according to His will.

I thought of adding more to this, of writing about Averroes, or the non-Shariah legal systems that were adopted because of limitations of the former; of the various societies that have been fairly harmonious without benefit of the Shariah over the millennia; but it's late and I'm tired, and Qutb does not seem the sort who would invite debate. Let me simply say that while we may not know what the universe is, we certainly have the capacity to try to figure it out; it is one of the few sources -- but also the most powerful source -- of optimism I draw from our human condition.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:36 PM | Comments (0)