I was pinged on last night's post about varying reactions to a speech critical of Muslim but particularly Arab governments and societies given by Lord George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, by a blog I hadn't seen before, Stephen Newton's diary of sorts. He argues that Carey's words -- particularly a passage in which Carey argues that Muslims have contributed "no great invention" for hundreds of years -- would doubtlessly offend. He goes on to argue something which I find odd, to wit, that Christianity has a history of suppressing discovery, and, further, that
No religion has enabled a culture of innovation; we owe that to secularism and tolerance.
I find this sentiment to be silly in the extreme, and a fairly serious misreading of history.
Let's forget for a moment that the categories "secular" and "sacred" are religious categories to begin with (the former being devised by various Christian philosophers, beginning memorably with Christ, who said "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's" -- despite the fact that he wasn't particularly thrilled with how Caesar was managing his part of the bargain), that the notion of tolerance comes from religion itself ("There is no compulsion in religion", "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone,"), let's forget the fact that the great avowedly secular expriment of the 20th Century -- Communism -- proved to be far more monstrous and bloody than any religious upheaval (by some estimates, something like 100 million murdered); let's leave all that aside, and focus on the narrower question of whether any religion has enabled a culture of innovation.
Medieval historian Lynn White spent a lot of time looking at manuscript illustrations; he noted, if I remember correctly, that around the 14th century -- about the time that the mechanical clock came into wide usage in Europe (this was an innovation necessitated by the colder climates of northern Europe, where water clocks would freeze and monks wouldn't know when they were supposed to pray) -- that the almighty began to be depicted as a clockmaker, or as an engineer with plumb line and T-square and calipers, the maker of a mechanical universe. Long before deists or Newton, the idea of a mechanical universe with God as its engineer was imagined by religious illustrators -- and they were not burnt at the stake for their efforts.
Copernicus, a good Catholic prelate (though for most of his life he had the luxury of study rather than ecclesiastical duties -- the Church recognized that the man had talent, and there were better occupations for him than saying Mass), was invited by the Pope in 1514 to take part in the Fifth Lateran Council to use his astronomical expertise to improve the calendar, which had gotten out of sync with the seasons.
In the 12th century, Cistercian monasteries were hotbeds of industrial activity; water power (one of the great labor saving devices of the Middle Ages) was used to do everything from run saw mills to brew beer.
These are but a few examples, which I think tend to contradict his thesis.
I wish I had the book to dig out the reference, but in the Middle Ages, there was something of a reverence for the past, and an understanding that the present would not be possible without it. "If we can see so far," one sermon goes, "it is because we stand on the shoulder of giants." Why is it that secularists so often fail to share this humility?
On March 25, 2004, Lord George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterburty, gave a lecture in Rome entitled "Christianity and Islam: Collision or Convergence?" The address is a relatively mild affair which calls for ecumenicalism, denounces Israel for the killing of the Hamas leader Sheik Yassin (something with which I don't agree at all -- someone who declares war on a country, who heads an organization that as one its war aims intends to kill that country's children, elderly, mothers and so on is by definition a combatant and a legitimate target), assures us that Islam is a great faith which condemns violence against innocents, and so on. It's a remarkably unremarkable piece, but it provoked some controversy. Thinking Anglican has a nice roundup of the complaints, in which one Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council Britain, charged, "Frankly, one is dismayed by the comments. One is surprised to find Lord Carey recycling the same old religious prejudice in the 21st century."
I found out about the speech from KurdishMedia.com, where one commentator had criticism not for Carey, but for Sacranie:
Those comments come from Kamal Mirawdeli, a Kurdish freelance journalist, who promises to expound more on this in a later piece.
I found the quick predictable reaction of the Muslim Council of Britain totally ignorant and insulting. Rather than welcome Archbishop’s radical reasonable ideas as an opportunity to start a real debate about Islam and Muslim societies and the problems of political despotism, social enslavement, scientific backwardness and ideological impotence which these societies suffer from, let alone the disease of terrorism and massacre of innocent civilians which they export to many parts of the world, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain ironically accused Lord Carey of “recycling the same old religious prejudice in the 21 century.” He added, “ We would suggest that, rather than hectoring Muslims, Lord Carey’s skills would be more usefully employed in halting the drift away from Christianity in Europe.”
I have not seen the whole statement by the MCB. But I would like to comment on the above.
1. It is MCB that recycles old seventh-century ideas about Islam while John Carey calls for challenging these outdated ideas for the sake of modernising Islam itself.
2. Anyone who knows John [actually George -- the author gets the first name right on the first reference--ideofact] Carey realises that he does not need Mr Sacranie’s patronising and advice to tackle the modern issues and problems of Christianity. Unlike of medieval Islamic scholars he has been on the forefront of debating and opening up of many controversial issues.
3. To accept a faith or drift away from it must, in this age, be based on tolerance and opening up to variety of ideas and diversity of issues not to base religion on blind faith, fatalistic illusions and despotic rules that do not accept change and modernisation and which are used by both despotic rulers and hypocritical patriarchal males to impose a semi-slavery system on women and ensure everlasting rule for dictators and male chauvinists at the expense of maintaining backward societies which are in this globalised world are not only a menace to themselves but to the whole civilised world too.
In a comment to last night's post, I asked why it was that Ian Fleming dropped Smersh, the Soviet terror operation which employed assassinations and terror against the totalitarian nightmare's enemies, in favor of SPECTRE as James Bond's top adversary. Fleming died in 1964 -- not exactly timed to the end of the Cold War or the fall of the Soviet Union. Today I Nexised Fleming a bit, and came up with some interesting details on Bond (sorry -- I haven't bothered to google these, or see if they're in online archives -- too much trouble for such a fluffy post).
From a London Times article by Anthony LeJeune, published on October 18, 1986, we learn,
Ian Fleming, himself entitled to an Old Etonian tie, knew the reality of secret intelligence, but James Bond, as he said, was an updated version of Bulldog Drummond. Bond's opponents, to begin with, were agents of Smersh, an all too real organization for killing enemies of the Soviet Union: but later, on the rather odd grounds that 'one can't go on teasing the Russians', Fleming changed his villains to Spectre, a fantastical body of worldwide criminals. This suited the film-makers, who eschew political villains unless defunct, like the Nazis, or manically right-wing.
I'd never heard of Bulldog Drummond; he appeared in a series of novels by "Sapper," the pseudonym of Henry Cyril McNeile, who in fact was a Sapper -- an engineer -- in the First World War. Drummond finds the adjustment to civilian life difficult after the Great War, and takes out a newspaper ad seeking adventure. Amazon has a whole bunch of them on offer, although I can't say I was overwhelmed by the sample pages I read. Here, incidentally, is a brief description of McNeile:
Sapper is the pen name of Herman Cyril McNeile, born in 1888 at the Naval Prison in Bodmin, Cornwall, where his father was Governor. He served in the Royal Engineers (popularly known as 'sappers') from 1907-19, being awarded the Military Cross during World War 1.
He started writing in France, adopting a pen name because serving officers were not allowed to write under their own names. When his first stories, about life in the trenches, were published in 1915, they were an enormous success. But it was his first thriller, Bulldog Drummond (1920) that launched him as one of the most popular novelists of his generation. It had several amazingly successful sequels, including The Black Gang, The Third Round and The Final Count. Another great success was Jim Maitland (1923), featuring a footloose English sahib in foreign lands.
Sapper published nearly thirty books in total, and a vast public mourned his death when he died in 1937, at the early age of forty-eight. So popular was his 'Bulldog Drummond' series that his friend, the late Gerard Fairlie, wrote several Bulldog Drummond stories after his death under the same pen name, which had by then become synonymous with fast-paced, intelligent thrillers and complex, vibrant characters.
Of course, the fun thing about going back to the old clips was reading the rather snotty lines about Bond. In a 1992 Guardian article by Adrian Turner, who seems to rather dislike the cinematic 007, the death of Bond is predicted:
After 16 films, plus the dire Casino Royale and Connery's lame comeback in Never Say Never Again, James Bond has no future on the screen. The Bond of the novels survives in Fleming's impeccably written time-warp, a symbol of decadence and a barometer of Britain's political decline in the fifties. As Kingsley Amis wrote in his James Bond Dossier, Fleming 'leaves no heirs'.
I think one could argue that Britain is politically ascendant these days -- boasting the only military that can keep up with the Americans, bridging the Atlantic, stalwart ally in Afghanistan and Iraq (but Turner would probably question that assessment). And I recall, in the days after Sept. 11, a friend wistfully saying it's too bad we can't send Bond after al Qaeda. In any case, the Turner article adds much useful information, including this bit:
The Bond novels are one thing and should be treasured; the movies are quite another. Fleming tried unsuccessfully for years to get his hero on the screen. He knew that was the only way to make real money and went regularly to America, but not to Hollywood, with a bag of optimism and outlines. Casino Royale was bought for $1,000 by CBC in 1954 and turned into a 60-minute drama starring Barry Nelson as (Jimmy) Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Fleming then re-sold the rights to Casino Royale for $6,000, and blew it all on a Ford Thunderbird. But none of his grand schemes for a TV series ever came to fruition. He simply converted his screenplay outlines into books - Dr No, Thunderball and the short stories in For Your Eyes Only were all originally scripts.
Fleming seems to have dismissed the idea that a British company might be interested, possibly because Alexander Korda had turned down Live And Let Die in 1955. Perhaps Fleming despaired of the sorts of films the British were making in the late fifties: the realist dramas from the Royal Court Theatre group, the Carry On films and a stream of second world war dramas. At first glance, James Bond didn't fit into this scheme of things at all, except that elements of all these films would eventually form part of the Bond ethos - a working-class hero with a liking for big boobs and bigger puns trounces Hitlerian hoods.
Fleming had all but given up when an approach was made by Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli. Saltzman was linked to the Royal Court Group and had produced the film version of Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. Broccoli had produced The Trials Of Oscar Wilde. They became partners and secured a deal with United Artists in London, to finance and distribute the Bond films. Fleming was guaranteed a minimum of pounds 100,000 for the whole deal and the budget of the first film, Dr No, was set at $lm. Saltzman and Broccoli called their new company Eon Productions, and gained valuable publicity when President Kennedy listed From Russia With Love among his 10 favourite books.
I'll be reading From Russia With Love next, incidentally.
One other tidbit -- as Zack of the the excellent Procrastination blog and I both noted, The Spy Who Loved Me was a lame book. Neither of us cared for it. A Guardian obit of Richard Maibaum, who wrote all the scripts for the Bond series until his death in 1991, noted the following:
The author stipulated that the title of his novel The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) could be used, but not the story, which he disliked. Maibaum (with Christopher Wood) therefore elaborated on past plots, but added a worthy female opponent, Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), and a seven-foot-two heavy nicknamed 'Jaws'.
And that's enough fun with Fleming for one night.
We used to call him Fast Eddie when he was mayor of Philadelphia, but this is ridiculous... (I think there's some burdensome reader registration process to go through to get the article....)
I think I badly need a vacation. We all do, but one's not in the offing any time soon, so I'm taking my pleasure where I can. Diving back into Anthony Burgess' novels was one, although it's depressing to find that one I really wanted to reread -- A Tremor of Intent -- won't be back in print until July.
I remember that Burgess wrote a slim little volume, 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939, in which he offered capsule reviews of (as the title suggested) the 99 best novels, in his opinion, in a roughly 45 year span (the book came out in the early to mid-1980s, if I recall correctly; I have a copy of it lying around somewhere -- probably still buried in the basement). One of the things I noted when I read it all those years ago (I haven't looked at it since) is that Burgess seemed to have a propensity for picking books like books he had written. He had a few dystopias there to match his own dystopia (The Wanting Seed), and one spy novel as well: Ian Fleming's work Goldfinger.
Now, ever since I was all of six years old, I've been a huge fan of the James Bond films. I've seen them all, without fail, and my favorite, From Russia With Love, I've probably seen twenty times. Sean Connery, of course, is my favorite Bond; I thought Piercce Brosnan was a serviceable Bond, but let's face it -- Connery created a cultural icon, imitated but never surpassed. I've always felt a little bit of pity for poor Roger Moore, by the way, who had the bad fortune to play Bond in the '70s, and stuck with the role far too long.
Oddly enough, despite (or perhaps because of) my love for the cinematic Bond, I never bothered to read much of Ian Fleming. My one experience with Fleming was disappointing; I read The Spy Who Loved Me, and didn't particularly care for it. Yesterday, I decided to take Burgess' advice, and picked up Goldfinger. It doesn't disappoint..
One of the 99 best English novels? Even with the time restrictions, I'm not sure I'd say so, but it's taut and economical and a gripping read. I'm already 150 pages into it, and am enjoying it immensely. In Fleming's novel, Goldfinger is suspected of being the paymaster of Smersh -- Smiert Spionen, death to all spies, the Soviet counterintelligence operation that in reality assassinated quite a few people who fought against communist tyranny, whether openly or covertly. There's a level of desperation about the character of James Bond that makes the novel enjoyable -- he's far more human in the book than he is on the screen. In its own small way, the book is a reminder of what's at stake when freedom and tyranny clash -- the Cold War, the War on Terror -- as this piece makes relatively clear:
Terrorism is driven by ideology and fueled by a poisonous interpretation of religion. It's much more important to recognize that radical Islam -- terrorist Islam -- is being spread by a propaganda line we should well remember.
Those who preach it -- whether it's the Saudi Wahabbism, the Iranian edition, or one of the others -- insist that terrorist Islam will succeed inevitably, and its seizure of power in any nation is irreversible. It is, they say, the will of God. More than thirty years ago, a guy named Leonid Brezhnev said the same thing about communism, and the Clarkes of that era bought it. At least until Lech Walesa and some very brave Poles proved the Brezhnev Doctrine, as it became known, to be utterly false. By overthrowing communism and establishing democracy, Walesa and his people drove a stake through the heart of communism. If there is a central strategy in our war against terror, it must be this: those who propagandize the inevitability and irreversibility of radical Islam must be proven wrong just as the Brezhnevites of the 1970s were, and in the same way.
If we are to succeed in the long-term war against Islamic terror, we must succeed in the same way, and to the same degree that the Poles did.
Not as glamorous as an Aston Martin DB5 with an ejector seat, but proving the Islamists wrong seems a worthwhile project -- intellectually as well as militarily.
Took the five year old to see the new Scoobie Doo movie today. A few brief impressions: I couldn't help feeling it wasn't quite as good as first the movie, probably because Shaggy has a crisis of confidence. In this film, one can see why Freddie is the leader -- unlike in the first movie, he's brave and determined, and not quite so full of himself. There are some funny moments, the special effects are wonderful, and my favorite moment came when Daphne, ably played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, says, "I love being a girl," after her girlish preoccupations save the gang from a tight scrape. How far from Qutb, I couldn't help thinking.
The five year old loved it -- his favorite scenes came when Freddie (twice) threw himself into harm's way battling the black knight. What I've liked about both films is that the filmmakers seem to grasp what made the cartoon Scooby Doo special (or at least the first couple of seasons, before they introduced characters like Scrappy Doo or Scooby Dum for additional comic relief). I know all the arguments against Scooby Doo -- the animation was terrible, the plot was always the same, etc. etc., but what made it an enjoyable cartoon (and I'm trying to remember myself as a five year old) was the Mystery Inc. gang. Its weakest links were always strong enough to stand up to sea going ghosts, werewolves, zombies, miner 49ers, or whatever else came their way.
One other observation: My five year old has always found Velma (the smart girl) more appealing than Daphne -- I think that when I was five (I was five when Scooby Doo premiered), I felt the same way. After seeing the film, he decided that Daphne was pretty cool too.
Reader Eamon left a fascinating comment on this old post about the Alawites, who are either a heretical sect of Islam or their own religion entirely (I've taken the liberty of lower casing and correcting spelling where appropriate):
Fascinating, if true. I'm reminded of Kipling's tale The Man Who Would Be King, and a Borges story, The Theologians, in which a misreading of a quotation of Plato by St. Augustine spawns a heretical sect.
Alawism is more of a philosophic trend than a religion. Its belief in primitivism as the only salvation as the only salvation for man. Alawites come from Alexander the Great. You would be surprised to know that Plato is one of the prophets highly deemed [regarded?--ideofact] by Alawites. For example, an Alawite might pray while doing something else (deritualized prayer) because he thinks that the essence is in the idea or the mind -- it's very much similar to Plato's famous phrase "three times removed from the truth."
Incidentally, I've noted that two of the most popular search terms that draw visitors to ideofact are "Alawites" and "Druze." A third is "Japanese Pirates." I wonder why...
Sayyid Qutb, in the eighth chapter of Milestones, suggests that science can advance absent its theoretical foundations. After dismissing philosophy as being, by definition, un-Islamic (the subject of the next post on chapter eight), Qutb turns to what used to be called natural philosophy, or the hard sciences:
Philosophy, the interpretation of history, psychology (except for those observations and experimental results which are not part of anyone's opinion) ethics, theology and comparative religion, sociology (excluding statistics and observations)-all these sciences have a direction which in the past or the present has been influenced by jahili beliefs and traditions. That is why all these sciences come into conflict, explicitly or implicitly, with the fundamentals of any religion, and especially with Islam.
The situation concerning these areas of human thought and knowledge is not the same as with physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, medicine, etc. - as long as these last- mentioned sciences limit themselves to practical experiments and their results, and do not go beyond their scope into speculative philosophy. For example, Darwinist biology goes beyond the scope of its observations, without any rhyme or reason and only for the sake of expressing an opinion, in making the assumption that to explain the beginning of life and its evolution there is no need to assume a power outside the physical world.
In other words, Darwinist biology -- evolutionary theory -- asks questions that shouldn't be asked, puts data together that should be kept discreet and separate, and so on. Forget for a moment the question of whether Darwin was right -- just consider the amount of research his ideas spawned. (Though even inaccurate ideas can lead to scientific advances -- Giordano Bruno, a heretic if there ever was one, was one of the important pioneers of modern astronomy. It didn't matter that he was unable to separate his scientific ideas from his mystical, hermetic notions. The wrong theoretical explanatory framework -- Bruno's hermeticism or, if you prefer, Darwin's atheism -- can yield some right answers.) Absent Darwinian theory, would there be as much paleontology, paleozoology, paleobotany? Would genetic research have advanced as far as it has (potentially providing all sorts of life-extending therapies) absent the stimulus of Darwin's theory?
Today I came across an article on IslamOnline about fossils and the Qur'an. The author tells us,
While geologists and fossil records confirm the fact of all life originating from water, and of sea animals outdating land animals, the difference between the two views is that the Holy Qur'an clearly states that all animals were "created" by Allah in a Divine Act, whereas scientists tell us they "evolved" from a single ancestor over the passage of time.
They have yet to prove this theory of evolution. Inconsistencies in fossil records and missing links between their “connecting groups” deny them this opportunity.
And, their inability to prove their theories is confirmation that all creatures have indeed been "created" by an act of Allah as revealed to Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who was both unread and unlettered, fourteen centuries ago.
But why isn't this confirmation of, say, the Mayan myth of the creation of the world? Or, say, the Greek story of Chaos and Gaia?
As for Qutb, he wants all the fruits of Western science without permitting any of the freedoms of inquiry and thought necessary to produce it:
So the practical applications of science are not jahili, but human thought is.
Islam considers that - excepting the abstract sciences and their practical applications-there are two kinds of culture; the Islamic culture, which is based on the Islamic concept, and the jahili culture, which manifests itself in various modes of living which are nevertheless all based on one thing, and that is giving human thought the status of a god so that its truth or falsity is not to be judged according to God's guidance.
First, an apology for the erractic posting lately. Last night, our stove was in the dining room, right next to the refrigerator. We couldn't go into the kitchen, nor could we use the first floor bathroom. The basement remains off limits, and my rather modest collection of books is still stacked in the one good room down there, a solid storage closet. The renovation of stately ideofact manor continues, and the last two weeks have been fairly disruptive. The good news is that as of today, the kitchen is back together, as is the bathroom. The basement will probably be done in another week or -- to be on the safe side -- two. I'll have to buy new bookshelves (I tossed the old ones, cheap Ikea things I'd had since my days as a bachelor) and some other incidentals -- a better desk, for one thing -- but there's a decent chance that life will be back to normal by the time I write this year's check to the Internal Revenue Service. Well, not back to normal -- decidedly better, I think. Meanwhile, despite all the disorder, life goes on (as will the Qutb series, later this week). And the books I've been buying keep piling up...
Not the most elegant segue I've ever written, but what the hell, you get what you pay for. The title of this entry is taken from an Anthony Burgess novel, that, mighty Amazon tells us, will be released in July. It's not a great novel (in the way that, say, Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities is a great novel), but of Burgess' books, it's my personal favorite. A Tremor of Intent is both a spy novel and an exploration of human weakness and depravity -- sort of a combination of Ian Fleming and St. Augustine. It was the first Burgess novel I read (I didn't get to A Clockwork Orange until much later, after I'd already had a year of college Russian under my belt), at the all too tender age of 16, and it made a deep impression on me, and not merely because the spy poses as a typewriter designer, and there's a rather interesting discussion of the technology and history of typewriters. (The book also had a fair amount of sex in it.) I remember the front cover of my old Norton edition, which called the book an "eschatological spy novel," which seemed to be a bit of overselling on the part of Norton's promotional people. While the novel deals with religion rather directly, it's in no way eschatological -- it's far more a meditation on morality and faith.
All of which brings me, in a rather roundabout way, to a somewhat different subject. I'm rarely astonished by much I read anymore, but this piece in Opinion Journal made me do something of a double take. The piece is called "What Happened in the East: The origins of the Final Solution lay in the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union," and discusses a recent book (which I haven't read) called The Origins of the Final Solution by Christopher Browning. The article suggests,
Between 1939 and 1941--when the Wehrmacht invaded and occupied Poland and the Balkans, then virtually all of Western Europe, while securing alliances with Romania and Hungary--Hitler was still planning to cleanse Europe by expelling the Jews to a far-off location.
The Nazis found themselves in control of nine million Jews, far more than the mere 600,000 who lived in Germany. For a time, the Nazi leadership seriously considered shipping them to Madagascar. Hitler confided this plan to Mussolini in June 1940; a month later, the Nazis even halted the building of the Warsaw ghetto because they assumed they would be sending the Jews away. As Christopher Browning explains in his superb "The Origins of the Final Solution": "The commitment to some kind of final solution to the Jewish question had been inherent in Nazi ideology from the beginning. Thus Nazi Jewish policy . . . first envisaged a judenfrei Germany through emigration and then a judenfrei Europe through expulsion."
It was not until the invasion of Soviet territory, though, in June 1941--and the almost immediate occupation of the Baltic states, Ukraine and large parts of Belorussia--that the Nazis understood that they were now embarked on "a vast racial and ideological conflict." Hitler had warned his officers that spring that the impending invasion "would be very different from the war in the West." The military soon understood that all Jews would be killed.
A while back, I agreed with Lynn of In Context that there was something about the Holocaust that was sui generis -- while there had been other incidents of mass murder by states, the Holocaust was a low for humanity -- an evil unparalleled in human history. Reading the Opinion Journal piece, it struck me that perhaps I could begin to articulate why.
The supposition of the article is that the final solution was a consequence of Hitler's having invaded the Soviet Union gets things backwards. I tend to think that Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in order to get control of the population of Eastern European Jews. I tend to think that Hitler conceived of the war the Nazis were fighting was a war on Jews. I think Hitler believed that he would win the war if only he could eliminate the Jews, and that some of the strategic blunders he made can only be understood in the context of this overriding goal. For Hitler, the struggle with Jews was truly eschatological -- absent their complete extermination, Germany would lose the war. This is why, I believe, that in the final year of the Thrid Reich, when it was clear to conventional thinkers that Hitler should divert all possible resources to shoring up the Eastern Front, he instead diverted resources to continue the killing in the death camps, starving his army to ensure that the war against the Jews would be won. And this is what makes the Holocaust sui generis: an entire state was employed in what became a suicidal attempt to eliminate the Jews out of a horrific idea, that the Jews represented such an eschatological danger to the world that they must be eradicated.
I probably haven't stated this especially well, and it is most likely necessary to provide references to back up this thesis, but I think, by and large, that it's sound.
While googling for information on Ayman Mohamed Rabi' Ayman al-Zawahri, the Egyptian who's Osama bin Laden's chief "ideologist" and number two man -- and appears to have either escaped or perhaps never been in danger of apprehension at all (see this article for details), I came across this curious piece of information:
Back in Egypt in 1991, he published "The Bitter Harvest," a condemnation of the moderate Muslim Brotherhood and justification for jihad, then in 1992 joined bin Laden in Sudan, where both were under the protection of Hasan al Turabi, who like the two Islamists, is well educated and radical.
Now, the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate in the same way that Archangel has a moderate climate relative to the North Pole, but leave that aside. I was reminded of something I wrote about a while back, the full text of the Zarqawi letter -- allegedly written by al Qaeda's man in Iraq. In his section on the Sunnis in Iraq, he wrote,
3. The [Muslim] Brothers
As you have observed, they make a profession of trading in the blood of martyrs and build their counterfeit glory on the skulls of the faithful. They have debased the horse, put aside arms, said “no jihad” … and lied.
Their whole effort is to extend political control and seize the posts of Sunni representation in the government cake whose creation has been decided, while taking care in secret to get control of the mujahidin groups through financial support for two purposes. The first is for propaganda and media work abroad to attract money and sympathy, exactly as they did during the events in Syria, and the second is to control the situation and dissolve these groups when the party ends and the gifts are distributed. They are now intent on creating a Sunni shura body to speak in the name of the Sunnis. It is their habit to grab the stick in the middle and change as the political climate changes. Their religion is mercurial. They have no firm principles, and they do not start from enduring legal bases. God is the one from whom we have sought help.
It appears that the only people the various brands of Islamists despise more than Infidels, Jews, and other Muslims are themselves...
I can't figure out why I never got around to reading Anthony Burgess' novel Napoleon Symphony. It's a wonderful book, and Burgess, I think, manages to capture all the grandeur and squalor of his subject, while at the same time deploying the irregular forces of the English language with tactical and strategic brilliance. The scenes Burgess has chosen to illuminate his symphony are wonderful -- to give one example, there's the family dinner with the Corsican's rather Corse family, at which the First Consul and emporer to be has to discuss the succession with his siblings -- which of them will inherit Napoleon's empire. His elder brother, Joseph, is passed over immediately, which leads Joseph to prostest that his rights have been violated. Napoleon's responds with exasperation,
"Rights? Rights? Under what law or system or contract or covenant do you have rights? Is there some old Corse tradition which says that if your younger brother is made emporer of the French you then -- by rights -- become his heir?"
Burgess places side by side all the petty jealousies of a not particularly nice family with the destiny of Europe, which, come to think of it, is more or less what happened.
No one can put up with too much of that nonsense at a time, so after I finish chapter eight, I think I'll take a short break from Milestones. For my sanity, I've been reacquainting myself with Anthony Burgess, and am now reading the regrettably out-of-print Napoleon Symphony. I first read Burgess in my teens -- the Napoleon Symphony was one book I'd wanted to read by him back then but didn't get around to. It was definitely worth the wait, although one drawback is that I've forgotten a good deal of French Revolutionary history. While Paul Barras was still familiar, Jean Lambert Tallien didn't ring a bell -- and that's just on the first page.
I thought in the meantime I'd offer this appraisal of the attitude toward the West -- the Jahillayah -- of Sayyid and Muhammad Qutb from Nazih Ayubi's rewarding work, Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World:
According to the thesis of the two Qutb brothers, which is echoed by all subsequent neo-fundamentalists, a complete epistemological break has to be effected with modern civilization if Muslims are to be real Muslims. In order to arrive at this conclusion, modern civilization has to be divorced in their analysis from its intellectual sources, and a simplistic reading of its shortcomings and drawbacks is offered, taken mainly from Abu al-Hasan al-Nadwi's critique of Western civilization (which in turn is based on the reading of a few basically conservative and pessimistic European critics of this civilization). Modern culture (capitalist and socialist alike) is abridged into a few simplistic categories that can be easily understood by people with modest education and that show it as being basically materialist and anti-human (especially anti-Muslim). Furthermore, the critique of modern civilization is not presented as a thesis that may be discussed and debated, to raise consciousness of the self and of the other, but rather as a militant ideology that does not lend itself to discussion because it is premised on a sincere devotion to a divine method and design.
The thing which will appear strange, not only to the common man but also to writers about Islam, is our turning to Islam and to the Divine source for guidance in spheres of science and art.
There isn't much on art, with which I'll deal here for the most part: Qutb refers us to a book by his brother, Muhammad Qutb, called Principles of Islamic Art, as the definitive text on the subject. (Muhammad Qutb, by the way, was Osama's tutor.) In any case, what Sayyid does tell us of art is this:
...all artistic efforts are but a reflection of a man's concepts, beliefs and intuitions; they reflect whatever pictures of life and the world are found in a man's intuition.
From that utterly banal bit of art criticism, we move on to science. Qutb sets up a dichotomy between knowledge which can only be gotten from a devout Muslim --
matters of faith, in the concept of life, acts of worship, morals and human affairs, values and standards, principles of economics and political affairs and interpretation of historical processes
and those which can be gotten from an infidel:
a Muslim can go to a Muslim or to a non-Muslim to learn abstract sciences such as chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, medicine, industry, agriculture, administration (limited to its technical aspects), technology, military arts and similar sciences and arts; although the fundamental principle is that when the Muslim community comes into existence it should provide experts in all these fields in abundance, as all these sciences and arts are a sufficient obligation (Fard al-Kifayah) on Muslims (that is to say, there ought to be a sufficient number of people who specialize in these various sciences and arts to satisfy the needs of the community). If a proper atmosphere is not provided under which these sciences and arts develop in a Muslim society, the whole society will be considered sinful; but as long as these conditions are not attained, it is permitted for a Muslim to learn them from a Muslim or a non-Muslim and to gain experience under his direction, without any distinction of religion. These are those affairs which are included in the Hadith, "You know best the affairs of your business". These sciences are not related to the basic concepts of a Muslim about life, the universe, man, the purpose of his creation, his responsibilities, his relationship with the physical world and with the Creator; these are also not related to the principles of law, the rules and regulations which order the lives of individuals and groups, nor are they related to morals, manners, traditions, habits, values and standards which prevail in the society and which give the society its shape and form. Thus there is no danger that a Muslim, by learning these sciences from a non-Muslim, will distort his belief or will return to Jahiliyyah.
Qutb would like to restrict human endeavors to those things that don't disagree with Islam. He's perfectly happy to co-opt the fruits of Western science -- particularly technology -- without adopting the intellectual freedom necessary to produce such technology. We know that the laws of physics are every bit as binding on Muslims as they are on Buddhists or Christians; in the West, we value the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, of Egypt and Babylon, of Asia and the New World. We enjoy the poetry of Rumi as much as that of, say, Yeats. Of course, we've been tricked into thinking this...
The statement that "Culture is the human heritage" and that it has no country, nationality or religion is correct only in relation to science and technology-as long as we do not jump the boundary of these sciences and delve into metaphysical interpretations, and start explaining the purpose of man and his historical role in philosophical terms, even explaining away art and literature and human intuition philosophically. Beyond this limited meaning, this statement about culture is one of the tricks played by world Jewry, whose purpose is to eliminate all limitations, especially the limitations imposed by faith and religion, so that the Jews may penetrate into body politic of the whole world and then may be free to perpetuate their evil designs. At the top of the list of these activities is usury, the aim of which is that all the wealth of mankind end up in the hands of Jewish financial institutions which run on interest.
In other words, the ability to derive pleasure, to learn about one's fellow men, to gain from a writer or artist who may have died centuries ago the immediacy of an aesthetic experience, to appreciate Shakespeare, Goethe, the Upanishads, Ovid, Socrates, the operas of Richard Wagner (I include him in part because his music isn't as bad as it sounds, as Bernard Shaw once observed), the epic of Gilgamesh, the art and architecture of ancient Egypt, is to be fooled by the dreaded World Jewry.
Now that I know whom to thank, I'll be sure to send roses...
Interesting news from KurdishMedia.com -- reports of demonstrations among Kurdish civilians in Eastern Kurdistan -- that is, Iran, some, acccording to this account, drawing as many as 50,000 protesters. I think the cause of the protests is worth noting:
After the signing of the new Iraqi constitution, which specifically recognized the establishment of a Kurdish federal unit with an explicitly Kurdish government in Article 53, spontaneous pan-Kurdish demonstrations broke out in various cities throughout eastern Kurdistan, including Mahabad, Sanandaj, Mariwan, Bana, and Sardasht. Crowds of Kurds took to the streets to raise Kurdistan flags and sing the Kurdish national anthem.
It's not quite 1989, when one Eastern European totalitarian regime fell after another, but it's quite encouraging to see ordinary Kurds, as well as Persians in Iran and Arabs in Syria, demand their God given rights. The article goes on to note,
The Iranian regime’s forces tried to disperse the demonstrators, in some cases opening fire and seriously wounding an unknown number of them demonstrators. An unknown number of demonstrators were also detained by the regime’s forces, and cities were put under curfew and transportation between cities has been restricted.
This is the second time in just over a month that the masses in eastern Kurdistan have publicly responded to events in Iraqi Kurdistan with patriotic actions. Following the Hewler terrorist attacks of 1 February 2004, large memorial services were held in eastern Kurdistan in honor of the martyrs of this attack, and these events were attended by some Kurdish members of the Iranian parliament.
Unfortunately, the world media has chosen not to focus on the recent developments in eastern Kurdistan as the Kurds under the occupation of the Islamist dictatorship of Iran fight for human rights and freedom. As the Iranian regime faces increasing pressure from the outside due to its weapons programs and from the inside as the masses are more eager to fight their oppressors, it is apparent to all that the days of the Islamist regime are numbered.
...which just goes to show you that Islamism has been an incredibly successful organizing principle for government, except in those few unfortunate countries where it's actually been tried.
Meanwhile, from Iraq, reports are surfacing that Yazedis are being poisoned:
Since yesterday until now numerous people have been admitted to the hospital of Dhawk Province from Khank assembly which is close to Dhawk city. 300-400 cases of poisoning arrived at the hospital from the Khank assembly, which is inhabited by a majority of Yazidis.
It is believed that terrorists poisoned the water aiming to kill Yazidis, especially after pamphlets were posted on the walls of Mosul and other places by terrorists. These pamphlets say that whoever kills Yazidis will be rewarded by God. Local authorities have said nothing about this although the number of victims is increasing remarkably.
As I always caution with reports from KurdishMedia.com, I can't vouch for its reliability (that goes as well for the reports of demonstrations in Iran).
Just an aside really, no doubt inspired by the particularly fine example of dystopian literature I'm rereading -- the late Anthony Burgess' excellent novel The Wanting Seed, described as a Malthusian comedy on the back of the book, although it's much more. I began to wonder what a Qutbian dystopian novel would look like. I haven't the imagination to do so myself, of course, but it might be an interesting exercise.
This movement, from the moment of its inception until the growth and permanent existence of its society comes about, tests every individual and assigns him a position of responsibility according to his capacity, as measured by the Islamic balance and standards. The society automatically recognizes his capabilities, and he does not need to come forward and announce his candidacy; in fact, his belief and the values to which he and his society subscribe compel him to keep himself concealed from the eyes of those who want to give him a responsible position.
But the movement which is a natural outgrowth of the Islamic belief and which is the essence of the Islamic society does not let any individual hide himself. Every individual of this society must move! There should be a movement in his belief, a movement in his blood, a movement in his community, and in the structure of this organic society, and as the Jahiliyyah is all around him, and its residual influences in his mind and in the minds of those around him, the struggle goes on and the Jihaad continues until the Day of Resurrection.
One can well imagine the difficulties of being a talented individual in a corrupt society, and the Arab nationalists against whom Qutb railed were certainly corrupt (although that didn't stop the Muslim Brotherhood from collaborating with them early on). Jobs dispensed on the basis not of what you know, and what you're able to do, but rather who you know. Still, the notion that true talent will simply shine through, that society (society?) will automatically recognize talent and put it in its proper place, without any effort on the part of the individual, strikes me as being either a bit naive, at best, or fairly sinister, at worst.
After demonstrating the superiority of the Islamic family by suggesting that women should raise children to the exclusion of any other role in life, Sayyid Qutb, in the seventh chapter of Milestones, reminds us of the thesis with which he began the chapter, namely, that Islam only recognizes two types of society -- the pure Islamist society and the Jahliyyah, the society living in ignorance. Qutb tells us,
Thus, only Islamic values and morals, Islamic teachings and safeguards, are worthy of mankind, and from this unchanging and true measure of human progress, Islam is the real civilization and Islamic society is truly civilized.
I passed over that paragraph two or three times without so much as batting an eye -- I suppose I've read enough Qutb to no longer be shocked by his obvious cultural chauvinism. And what is the basis of this Islamic civilization? Qutb offers his own "Pillars of Islam":
The Islamic civilization can take various forms in its material and organizational structure, but the principles and values on which it is based are eternal and unchangeable. These are: the worship of God alone, the foundation of human relationships on the belief in the Oneness of God, the supremacy of the humanity of man over material things, the development of human values and the control of animalistic desires, respect for the family, the assumption of being the representative of God on earth according to His guidance and instruction, and in all affairs of this vicegerency the rule of God's law (al-Shari'ah) and the way of life prescribed by Him.
That's a little different than those specified by the Prophet, which consist of making the declaration of faith (which I think Qutb covers in the worship of God alone), the times and manner of prayer, paying the Zakat or tax that supports the poor, the fast during Ramadan, and the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca.
And that's it for tonight. I'll probably move on to chapter 8 next -- there's more I'd like to say about the seventh chapter, but my books are still packed away while we remodel stately ideofact manor, and an area I wanted to explore in more detail will have to wait...
This is depressing. Gaddafi is starting to make sense to me. The Washington Post had a lengthy piece on the dictator in Saturday's paper (odd that -- why not put in Sunday's paper, which has far more readers?), in which he told the reporter, in response to a question about Libya's Islamist opposition (underground, no doubt):
"We don't want to involve God in questions of infrastructure and sewerage, technology and water. Islam equals God. How can we involve it in such daily affairs?"
I think he probably means "mundane" rather than daily.
...or, more accurately, odds and ends, but I kind of liked the phrase.
The Qutb series will resume next week (that is, tomorrow or Monday).
I finished reading 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. I mentioned it previously here. A few final thoughts: the most interesting passages concern the survival of three printed copies of the Christianismi Restitutio of Michael Servetus, which are, respectively, the fatal heresy (or the work in which it was contained -- one can find an all too brief excerpt here) and the fearless scholar of the subtitle. The least interesting are the passages on Calvin, who is reduced to a cartoon caricacture. One of the most important and principled things Calvin did -- fighting for the right of the congregation and its ministers, as opposed to civil authorities, to regulate the church (including determining who might be a member) is presented as a naked power grab by Calvin, an attempt to wield total dictatorial power. Imagine if Calvin had lost, and if it were an altogether natural thing for elected politicians to run the affairs of churches. I can't imagine why that would be more progressive, more conducive to freedom, than Calvin's insistence on ecclesiastical authority in church matters free from state interference.
Speaking of heresy and ecclesiastical authority, I came across Irenaeus' work Against the Heresies on Amazon the other day while looking for something else -- I'm considering ordering it, although when I'd get around to reading it I'm not sure. I wonder of heresiologists bother with Irenaeus much anymore -- the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library lets some (but not all) of Irenaeus' heretics speak in their own words, eliminating the need for his summaries and descriptions and quotations of their errors. The Amazon page, by the way, contains this reader review, suggesting that the work against heresy never quite lets up:
Heresy is when a post-baptized Catholic, in Christ, turns from the original teachings of the Catholic church of Christ, and decides to accept the man-made doctrines of other denominations by excluding the Sacred Traditions of our fathers (appointed by Christ). The bible warns of man-made doctrines! Protestantism and it's branch offs, accepts man made traditions (ie. scripture only). In turning to these new, truly man-made doctrines, they have chosen to divorce the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that is Christ's. To be Catholic and then turn from it, is divorce. Protestants of course allow members to divorce and remarry. It's ironic that this is how their church was started. Rather than staying in the marriage and fixing it, divorce is chosen. However, Jesus promised HIS church to be one and united. For those in search of the real truth, the true Church of Christ, one needs only to search the history of the first actual, physical church of Christ to accept the Sacred value of the Catholic Church traditions. This book is just what the physician (Jesus) orders. Find out where the traditions came from and how Heresies began. In this book, Irenaeus proceeds to list the succession of the Bishops of Rome to his own day! He adds that "in this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical TRADITION from the apostles, and the preaching of truth have come down to us" I say, the study of Church history, is the end of Protestantism!
Finally, Meryl Yourish asked, in response to a particularly idiotic attempt to spread a virus, "How stupid do you think I am?" Which reminds me of a time when a former boss of mine -- someone, I should add, for whom I had very little respect -- asked me the same question in the midst of an exasperating argument (and of course, I would never make this reply to that question if Meryl were the one doing the asking). "Nobody's as stupid as I think you are," I shot back. Fortunately, the argument was moving quickly enough that he never bothered to think about what I said.
I was rather surprised by Charles Krauthammer's column in the Washington Post this morning, not so much by his pointed criticism of Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ -- that was all certainly legitimate, it seemed to me, although I haven't seen the film and am unlikely to in a theater. (I have seen Jesus of Montreal, which I quite enjoyed and highly recommend, but I never got around to seeing Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ -- I think the idea of David Bowie playing Pilate and John Lurie as James put me off.) In any case, Gibson is merely a filmmaker -- he has either made a good movie or a poor one, and, as I haven't seen it, I won't bother to speculate on which. (Yes, it's also possible, I believe, to have made an immoral film -- Leni Riefensthal's Triumph of the Will comes to mind immediately -- and I think that's ultimately what Krauthammer is getting at.) What I found interesting was his introduction, which seems to suggest that the Gospels themselves are the problem:
Every people has its story. Every people has the right to its story. And every people has a responsibility for its story.
Muslims have their story: God's revelation to the final prophet. Jews have their story: the covenant between man and God at Sinai.
Christians have their story too: the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Why is this story different from other stories? Because it is not a family affair of coreligionists. If it were, few people outside the circle of believers would be concerned about it. This particular story involves other people.
As I recall, other people--including the Jews (whom Krauthammer suggests come off badly in the New Testament)--figure in the Qur'an as well.
What interests me most, though, is that Krauthammer limits Christianity's story to the crucifixion and resurrection. It seems to me that one of the more important aspects of Christianity is the notion that God chose to live among his creatures as one of them -- the know a mother's touch, to learn to crawl and walk and speak, to suffer all the vicissitudes and joys of childhood, adolescence and adulthood -- before finally giving up his life for those who persecuted him. (The most powerful part of the passion for me has always been Peter denying that he follows Jesus three times -- the rock on which the Church was to be built crumbled in the clutch. Human, all too human...)
Can the "story" of Christianity exclude the sermon on the mount? The parables? The miracles?
I assume Krauthammer's introduction was mere rhetoric (in 800 words, how sophisticated can one be), but it was odd to read it nevertheless...
Every once in a while, I'm reminded of an old post -- largely because someone leaves a comment on something I'd forgotten about. I rather enjoyed being reminded of this one, culled mostly from the late Alija Izetbegovic's Notes from Prison: 1983-1988. Here's a sample:
A characteristic symptom of the stagnation of Islamic thought was the habit of writing "comments on comments," while the original works that were subject to the comments had sunk almost completely into oblivion. Medressas were reduced to four theological subjects: hadith, fikh, kalam (theology) and tesfir. The Qur'anic advice to "observe the sky" was completely forgotten, as noticed by the Turkish writer Katib Kelebi (seventeenth century) in his book The Equilibrium of the Truth. Even the comments were often reduced to superficial word games, verbal debates and grammatical pedantry. Some books on Arab syntax, known as Kafiya, were given mystical interpretation by some authors (?!). Mysticism infiltrated everything. Another phenomenon: learning by heart and endless memorizing, repetition instead of the search for knowledge. All these were the symptons or causes of overall stagnation.
The Notes from Prison are a worthwhile read.
I noticed something in an article in this morning's Washington Post (the link may require registration -- I'm not entirely sure) that I hadn't noticed when I briefly mentioned the Zarqawi letter a while back. The letter, of course, is an explanation of al Qaeda (or perhaps an independent group aligned with al Qaeda -- that's what the Post story suggests) strategy, tactics and prospects in Iraq. It had been here; here's the google cache of that version; now the full text is here -- a note about that in a moment. The Post story contains this quote from the Zarqawi letter:
As for bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, Zarqawi said, "We do not see ourselves as fit to challenge you," but instead his group would be "the spearhead, the enabling vanguard and the bridge on which the [Islamic] nation crosses over to the victory that is promised."
But as we have stated before, the beauty of this new system cannot be appreciated unless it takes a concrete form. Hence it is essential that a community arrange its affairs according to it and show it to the world. In order to bring this about, we need to initiate the movement of Islamic revival in some Muslim country. Only such a revivalist movement will eventually attain to the status of world leadership, whether the distance is near or far. How is it possible to start the task of reviving Islam?
It is necessary that there should be a vanguard which sets out with this determination and then keeps walking on the path, marching through the vast ocean of Jahiliyyah which has encompassed the entire world. During its course, it should keep itself somewhat aloof from this all-encompassing Jahiliyyah and should also keep some ties with it. [emphasis added]
Of course, both texts are translations, and it's possible that Zarqawi is using a different word for vanguard than Qutb did, but it's interesting nonetheless. I also find it interesting that vanguards, as a rule, whether they're of the proletariat or of the faithful, invariably represent a minority that tries to impose its will by force, and isn't above slaughtering the very people it claims to represent.
I had missed the vanguard reference when I first linked the Zarqawi letter because that earlier text only contained excerpts, totaling 2,210 words. The complete text is 6,687 words -- more than three times as long -- and the added words don't improve either its political or, for that matter, its literary merits. For example, here's the passage on the Kurds from the excerpts:
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.
And here is the passage from the complete text,
These are a lump [in the throat] and a thorn whose time to be clipped has yet to come. They are last on the list, even though we are making efforts to harm some of their symbolic figures, God willing.
It also adds this passage on the Kurds:
In their two Barazani and Talabani halves, these have given the bargain of their hands and the fruit of their hearts to the Americans. They have opened their land to the Jews and become their rear base and a Trojan horse for their plans. They (the Jews) infiltrate through their lands, drape themselves in their banners, and take them as a bridge over which to cross for financial control and economic hegemony, as well as for the espionage base for which they have built a large structure the length and breadth of that land. In general, Islam’s voice has died out among them -- the Kurds -- and the glimmer of religion has weakened in their homes. The Iraqi Da`wa has intoxicated them, and the good people among them, few as they are, are oppressed and fear that birds will carry them away.
The lengthier text is notable for several reasons -- the utterly despicable loathing Zarqawi expresses for the Shi'ites and, in a much briefer passage, toward the Sufis, but I found his assessment of the Sunnis most noteworthy, particularly the minority of this minority that Zarqawi believes are the legitimate Muslims:
Jihad here unfortunately [takes the form of] mines planted, rockets launched, and mortars shelling from afar. The Iraqi brothers still prefer safety and returning to the arms of their wives, where nothing frightens them. Sometimes the groups have boasted among themselves that not one of them has been killed or captured. We have told them in our many sessions with them that safety and victory are incompatible, that the tree of triumph and empowerment cannot grow tall and lofty without blood and defiance of death, that the [Islamic] nation cannot live without the aroma of martyrdom and the perfume of fragrant blood spilled on behalf of God, and that people cannot awaken from their stupor unless talk of martyrdom and martyrs fills their days and nights. The matter needs more patience and conviction. [Our] hope in God is great.
To paraphrase Exit Zero, the strategy for success seems to be: A) Get yourself killed; B) ????????? C) Total victory!
I've added some new links to the right -- Blogfonte (I regret to say I've owed a reciprocal link for a while), which covers politics and pop culture with a certain panache. I'm also happy to note that the lamented Cinderella Bloggerfeller is back with not one, but two new blogs, February 30, which he suggests will be a predominantly cultural blog, and The Blogmenbashi, devoted to what can only be described as the lunacracy that the poor people of Turkmenistan must endure. Enjoy.
Saturday's Washington Post had an interesting account of a book written by one Waheed Mojda, a foreign affairs officer of the Taliban, about that regime's rise and misrule. The article describes the work as offering hilarious and painful accounts of a government that left few written records and made little effort to explain its actions to the world at large. There's a good deal of pathetic detail in the article that seems to describe not so much the regime as the kind of society it tried to impose...
In another passage of Mojda's account, a Kabul man desperately tries to secure a religious order from the Supreme Court to have his teeth pulled because he had his cavities filled by a dentist but was told by a Taliban cleric that having filled teeth "would make my prayers and ablutions invalid."
There are details about the destruction of the Bamian Buddhas, which suggest the totalitarian nature of the regime,
He described the crisis that erupted when Omar ordered the demolition of two majestic Buddhas carved into the cliffs of central Afghanistan.
According to Mojda, many officials were unhappy about the order. Some tried to warn foreign conservationists, while others ducked responsibility.
Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil was "depressed" over the demolition but had to defend it to the foreign media.
"A great tragedy occurred," Mojda wrote. Military explosives were transferred to Bamian, where the Buddhas had been carved 13 centuries before, and the statues were rendered faceless. Not even senior Taliban officials had dared defy [Mullah] Omar, whose spirit, Mojda wrote, "always hung over meetings like a shadow."
That's a nice phrase -- hung over meetings like a shadow -- one can imagine nervous apparatchiks in the Soviet ministry of incompetent bureaucracy nervously twiddling their thumbs as they try to decide by how many tons of iron ore or pairs of shoes they have to exaggerate to avoid Stalin's displeasure. It might be worth taking Mojda's description of the displeasure of his fellow Talibani at the Bamian desecration with a grain of salt, although he is happy to point out that not everyone regarded the event with disdain:
While much of the outside world recoiled, Mojda noted, the symbolic smashing of the Buddhas attracted secret donations from foreign Muslim sympathizers and a fresh flow of Arab fighters eager to join the struggle against the oppressive West.
I also found it interesting that, like al Qaeda (as Exit Zero pointed out), the Taliban were employing the Jihadi equivalent of the Underpants Gnome Strategy:
"The Taliban leadership had no plan but war," wrote Mojda, and yet its battle plans often went awry. Even seasoned commanders had to wait to make field decisions until they obtained permission from Omar, who was usually incommunicado in his southern headquarters. Planning was so haphazard that large numbers of troops were sent into battles in which massive casualties were inevitable.
Actually, the underpants gnomes seem relatively sane compared to this...