April 29, 2004

Moderation?

Via IslamOnline comes the news that

An all-inclusive world union of Muslim scholars across the globe is to be created soon, with the aim of preserving the Islamic identity, promoting religious awareness, confronting "destructive trends" and giving advice to leaders of Muslim countries.

Prominent scholar Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawi has finished the draft of the envisaged world union of Muslim scholars, 24 years after the idea was first floated by then Bahraini education minister Ali Fakhro.

In exclusive statements to IslamOnline.net, Sheikh Qaradawi called on Muslim scholars from the four corners of the universe to join the new body.

He said the union would be as independent as broader in orientation and scope "grouping scholars of all different sects and serving Muslims worldwide".

"It would be an international, popular, independent, scientific and moderate Islamic establishment," asserted the moderate scholar.

In and of itself, it's not a terrible idea -- a moderate group of intra-Islamic ecumenical scholars advising governments, and presumably individuals as well, to avoid "destructive tendencies" would be welcome. If only what passes for moderation in a scholar at IslamOnline was actually moderate...

I remembered the name, vaguely -- google refreshed my memory:

Are they martyrs or murderers? If we are talking about people who are our brothers and our sons in Palestine who are defending their country, people like Hamas and Jihad and al-Aqsa brigades, they are not murderers, they are not killers and it's a transgression against them to call them so and label them so. They are people who are defending their homeland and their holy rights, which were attacked and transgressed against. This happens every day; every day they are hit with airplanes and tanks and Apache helicopters. Their sons and daughters and women are killed, their houses are destroyed, their farms are destroyed. They have every right to defend themselves and to stick their necks out for the sake of their freedom.

People who call them suicides are committing a transgression against them. This is a wrongful description. They are not suicides. They are the furthest away from the concept of suicide. The psychology of a suicide is totally different. A suicide is someone who is desperate and gives up hope on life and God and does not believe in the mercy of God. They are totally against that. These are people who can never be called murderers.

Yes, it's true sometimes children are killed as a result of their actions but this happens not intentionally but unintentionally and it's part of collateral damage in a situation of war.

"Collateral damage" -- that's the line Timothy McVeigh used when dismissing the 19 children killed in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. Disgusting as I find McVeigh, morally objectionable as I find his casual dismissal of those 19 victims, morally objectionalbe as I find the murder of the other 149 individuals -- federal workers and mere visitors with business to transact in the building -- at least I can note that if his objective was to kill federal workers, then the majority of those he killed were federal workers. The suicide bombers do not approach army barracks, or government offices, or police stations. They look for restaurants, for buses packed with school kids, for university cafeterias. They aim at non-combatants, at old ladies and kids and college students. These victims are not "collateral damage" -- they are the targets. Not even McVeigh would have been brazen enough to suggest that the federal workers he tried to kill were collateral damage.

Incidentally, I note that this new "moderate" scholars conclave will be hosted in that bastion of Islamic rectitude, Ireland...

The body would reportedly be headquartered in Ireland, where laws allow the establishment of such bodies.

Mohammad Salim Al-Awa, a veteran Egyptian Islamic thinker close to the project, had told IOL that efforts to have an Arab country host the body were unfruitful.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:46 PM | Comments (2)

April 28, 2004

Lost in Translation

At lunch today, I swung by the Borders that's just a few blocks from the office, and picked up a copy of God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson. Picked up, but did not buy (although I'll probably end up buying it sooner or later). What bothered me, I suppose, was Nicolson's treatment of William Tyndale, the man on whose translations of the New Testament (1526, revised in 1534) and portions of the Old Testament (1530 and 1537) (regrettably, Tyndale was martyred before he could finish the work) formed the basis of the 1611 King James translation (David Daniell, the Tyndale scholar par excellence, reports that 83 percent of King James is lifted straight from Tyndale). Nicolson suggests that the Tyndale influence on the King James translators is overstated, which is odd, since they lifted passages verbatim from him, and since the King James translators left no written records of their work.

Tyndale, in preparing his translations, relied on Erasmus' Latin translation with parallel Greek text, and, most likely, Luther's German translation. It is not unreasonable to suppose that, like Tyndale, the King James translators had before them earlier translations to assist with their work. More than that, however, the English language into which they were translating the Hebrew and Greek Bibles had itself been influenced by Tyndale, who in turn had been heavily influenced by Hebrew syntax. To give one example, we use phrases like the dead of night or bureau of labor statistics rather than night's dead or labor statistics bureau because that's the Hebrew word order, which Tyndale preserved in his English translation.

Consider the clarity of Tyndale's opening of the Book of Genesis, reproduced in William Tyndale: Selected Works. It reads as well as most modern translations:

In the beginning God created the heaven and earth. The earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the deep, and the spirit of God moved upon the water.

Then God said: let there be light and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good: and divided the light from the darkness, and called the light day, and the darkness night: and so of the evening and morning was made the first day.

And God said: let there be a firmament between the waters, and let it divide the waters asunder. Then God made the firmament and parted the waters which were under the firmament, from the waters that were above the firmament: And it was so. And God called the firmament heaven. And so of the evening and morning was made the second day.

And God said, let the waters that are under heaven gather themselves unto one place, that the dry land may appear: And it came so to pass. And God called the dry land the earth and the gathering together of waters called he the sea. And God saw that it was good.

Nicolson derides those who think Tyndale's contribution to Biblical translation is forgotten; I think the contribution of the fortuitous combination of some Hebrew texts and a religious reformer to the English language -- upon which not only the King James Bible but much of English literature depended -- is, on the contrary, something to be remembered and celebrated.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:51 PM | Comments (2)

April 26, 2004

Truth in advertising

I don't think I will ever endorse a candidate for any elective office, but I will suggest one candidate I favor, on disclosure grounds alone, for the head of Hamas. Sunday's Washington Post carried a story that somewhat counterintuitively suggests that killing the terrorist group's leadership makes it a more formidable force. (If this is true, think of all the money wasted over the years protecting heads of state, generals, and so on.) Among those who might take over the organization is a "military leader" (I assume this means he decides which buses full of old ladies and children will be targeted) with the fortuitous name of Adnan Ghoul.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2004

Nicea

So what really happened at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.? Elaine Pagels, of whose work I am particularly fond, asserts in Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas that,

From that meeting and its aftermath, during the tumultuous decades that followed, emerged the Nicene Creed that would effectively clarify and elaborate the "canon of truth," along with what we call the canon -- the list of twenty-seven writings which would become the New Testament.

The hedging of language is interesting; surely the Nicene Creed was adopted at the Council, although it underwent some changes in the ensuing decades. There were other issues discussed at the Council -- the version presented in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which is, after all, a source biased somewhat toward Catholic orthodoxy (this does not diminish its value, in my mind, quite the contrary) matches closely the all too brief article presented in my 1967 edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia: the Council dealt primarily with the heresy of Arianism, adopted the aforementioned creed -- a sort of affirmation of the basics of Christian belief -- dealt with the problem of dating Easter, and adopted a canon, but not the Canon to which Pagels refers. Here's a few sample items from the canon adopted at Nicea:

* Canon 1: On the admission, or support, or expulsion of clerics mutilated by choice or by violence.

* Canon 2: Rules to be observed for ordination, the avoidance of undue haste, the deposition of those guilty of a grave fault.

* Canon 3: All members of the clergy are forbidden to dwell with any woman, except a mother, sister, or aunt.

* Canon 4: Concerning episcopal elections.

* Canon 10: Lapsi who have been ordained knowingly or surreptitiously must be excluded as soon as their irregularity is known.

* Canon 11: Penance to be imposed on apostates of the persecution of Licinius.

* Canon 12: Penance to be imposed on those who upheld Licinius in his war on the Christians.

* Canon 13: Indulgence to be granted to excommunicated persons in danger of death.

* Canon 15: Bishops, priests, and deacons are not to pass from one church to another.

* Canon 17: Clerics are forbidden to lend at interest.

And so on. Perhaps the Canon of New Testament books was arrived at in the ensuing decades, although it is interesting to note that Irenaeus of Lyon, himself an ardent adversary of the heresies of his day (the second century A.D.), quoted or referenced just about all the books of the New Testament. Irenaeus wasn't setting forth a Canon, or arguing that such books were the New Testament -- rather, he was relying on the authority of scripture to combat his enemies.

I've seen several authors other than Pagels argue that the Council of Nicea was decisive in shaping the New Testament, but I have yet to see much in the way of documentary corroboration of this claim. At this point, I think it's as dubious as the little scenario I sketched out below.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:54 PM | Comments (3)

April 24, 2004

Back

By the way, I'm back. Posting should be more regular from now on.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:19 AM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2004

Heretical

As I think I've noted before, I have a certain fondness for heresies, but an abiding respect for orthodoxy as well. I don't buy into the notion, for example, that the Council of Nicaea was making it up as they went along, nor do I think that texts like those collected in the Nag Hammadi codexes represent a purer, truer version of Jesus' teachings than those collected in the New Testament. (An aside: Why is it that those who imagine malfeasance on the part of the Church fathers in assembling the Bible always assume that they erred on the side of conservatism? I can't help imagining the following scene, during the supposed editing of the Bible that went on there (please note, I have taken tremendous liberties here to make a point, and not to offend).

"By Jupiter's beard!" cried Vincentius as the passage from the Gospel of John was read. Though he was one of two priests sent by Pope Sylvester as his representatives to the Council, he was valued for his ability to appeal to the more conservative elements of Roman society, who had been shocked by Constantine's imposition of this primitive faith from the boondocks on the Empire, not for his knowledge of the Christian scripture, or even the proper method of Christian swearing. "He said what should be cut off of a man who indulges in adultery? And that a woman, who once sinned in this way, should be stoned, even should she not be discovered until her seventieth year? Don't you know the kind of woman -- with all due respect -- that Constantine's mother is?"

Athanasius, who had been serving as the secretary, smiled. His rather dramatic reading of the passage -- when John relates how a woman of ill repute was brought before Christ, and the Lord's reaction -- would have the desired effect. He gave Valentius a perplexed look. "The text is the text," he said, almost sheepishly, "although I have always thought that this line must have been miscopied, that our Lord would have shown mercy to the poor woman, as perhaps some of those at this very table have shown mercy to the fallen, including the good lady to whom our colleague from Rome refers."

At this, Eusebius of Caesura, who had become confessor to the Emporer's mother, that former bar slut, during the last persecution in order to save his own skin, flushed bright red. The arch conservative had battled with the cunning Athanasius through book after book, verse after verse. He had some notable victories -- he had managed to maintain the Old Testament's denunciation of homosexuality -- but with the many letters of Paul to come, including those insisting on stoning women, Athanasius had now scored a major victory. For did not Paul's Epistle to the Appians, Eusebius' favorite text, explicitly say that nothing was worse than an elder of God who ministered to a harlot, indeed, that he should share her fate? Eusebius bitterly realized that he had saved his own skin, at the cost of losing his religion.

"Brother Vicentius," Athanasius continued, "I have long believed that this passage should read differently. That our Lord undoubtedly said, 'Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.' Then our Lord turns to the unfortunate woman, and says, perhaps, 'Go and sin no more.' At least my teacher, Liberales of Mercia, maintained as much."

For a moment, there was silence in the room. Victor, the other papal legate, looked meaningfully at the affable Hosius of Cordova, the president of the council. Unlike his colleague Vicentius, Victor was well-versed in the scriptures, and committed to them. Yet he was also aware that there were means of making promiscuous sexuality and sin far more of a torment -- an exquisite psychological torment to the believer -- without stoning.

Hosius smiled uneasily. The Spaniard was chosen as president because of his taste for food -- nearly a glutton, he could hardly be expected to endorse the Arrian heresy, with its emphasis on the evil of matter. But Hosius was also a an admirer of female beauty, and while he had mastered his own flesh, he was well aware of the large percentage of his flock that had not. Victor knew, as did Athanasius, that the man would be sickened if he were forced to preside over the stoning of the Spanish beauties in his flock, or the castration of his many dining companions. "What brother Athanasius says," he began uncertainly, "seems to conform to what I have heard. Let us incorporate this edit -- er, truth -- into the Gospel. Now, if there are further issues on the Gospel of St. John, let us move on to the alleged Epistle of Paul to the Appians."

Eusebius fumed. But he had already decided upon his counter strike. If his association with the Emporer's mother had been used against him, he would use the Emporer himself to have his revenge. If these prelates imagined that they would determine morality for the empire, for the Church, even for the Emporer himself, then he would strike back at them with a doctrine he called Divine Right of the Monarch. By building up the secular authority, he, Eusebius, who had the Emporer's own mother's ear, would undermine their authority with secular power...

I thought about all this when reading this and this reminded me I need to get around to reading this book and this one. For more on the Council of Nicea, I found this article of interest.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:33 PM | Comments (3)

April 21, 2004

A post from over the floorboards

Ah, the sweet smell of polyeurethene wood finish. No, it's not particularly sweet at all -- it's giving me a splitting headache, but there's no escaping it. But the smell means that the bulk of the renovations of stately ideofact manor are finished. Yes, we still have odds and ends to do -- replacing a few windows that are falling apart, replacing the runner going to the second floor, getting a part of the siding fixed -- but the worst is over.

I'm too irritated by the smell to write much more than that tonight, but I thought I'd point to a couple of things I found interesting. First, there's a tremendous number of interesting commentaries at KurdishMedia.com, including this one on the "Silent Majority in Iraq":

The Silent Iraqi Majority is fed up with foreign terrorists using Falluja as a spring-board for their bloody attacks on Baghdad. The Silent Iraqi Majority is also fed up with Muqtada’s attempt to hijack the Al-Sadr Movement [started by the Grand Marji Muhammed Baqir Al-Sadr] in order to promote his own dictatorial agenda. The Silent Iraqi Majority is fed up with these two groups using Islam (both Sunni and Shia factions) to promote their narrow political agendas in Iraq.

...and Dr Kamal Mirawdeli's second installment of his analysis of the speech given by Lord George Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, that was criticial not of Islam, but of Arab societies--in particular, the lack of openness, accountability and legitimacy of their regimes (I mentioned it here).

Aziz of Unmedia points to this fascinating article in Slate on the Columbine killers -- it's chilling and well worth reading.

Finally, Thomas Nephew of the Newsrack blog emailed me about this post of his noting that the terrorists responsible for the Spanish massacre drank water from Mecca as a sort of preemptive absolution for their sins. Well worth reading and pondering -- and I may have something to say about it eventually.

Meanwhile, the space age polymers have made me far too loopy to continue typing.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:58 PM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2004

April 19

It's odd to read, in Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy, written by McVeigh's chief defense counsel, Enid, Okla., attorney Stephen Jones, lines like this one, about the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City:

Without a doubt, Oklahoma -- and the nation -- had just experienced the worst case of domestic terrorism in the history of the United States.

Throughout the 80-odd pages of the book I've read so far, Jones uses the superlative about that terrible day -- not surprising, since it was written before McVeigh's May 16, 2001, execution, before the events of Sept. 11. The "Others Unknown" of the title refers to phrasing in the federal indictment charging McVeigh, Terry Nichols and "others unknown" with the bombing -- later, as Jones notes in the preface, those others unknown were held not to exist. Jones wrote the book in part because he was convinced that some of those responsible for the bombing (and he expresses no doubts whatsoever that McVeigh was one of them) escaped without punishment.

This has actually long been my suspicion, and one needn't subscribe to conspiracy theories to believe it. The government has to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt; it may well have had all kinds of evidence pointing to a wider conspiracy, but none of it strong enough to act on. Recall also the ruse employed by Sam Spade in the tail end of Dashiell Hammett's masterpiece The Maltese Falcon. Spade tells the conspirators that he can pin all the murders on the fall guy, Wilmer Cook, because the district attorney will recognize that the full case is too tangled, but he can convict Cook "standing on his head." After all, Spade says, Cook actually did kill Thursby and Jacoby. (For those who haven't read the novel, or the seen the equally classic film, I can only say what on earth are you waiting for?).

Now, new evidence has surfaced, specifically a document (link goes to a PDF file) suggesting that McVeigh and an accomplice were captured by a surveillance camera. The woman, apparently, is directing the truck into the space where it was when it exploded. A few thoughts: 1) It's entirely possible the tape does not, in fact, exist, despite the description of it in the document; 2) If the tape does exist, and show what it describes, it's also possible that the woman was a passerby unconnected to the conspiracy, who merely helped a driver park his truck; 3) the tape, if it exists, may not show what the memo says it shows, namely McVeigh's car leaving the scene before two men emerged from the truck.

Still, even if the story of the videotape (and the witness who saw two men fleeing the scene) turns out to be inaccurate, I still think the government chose the expediency of a neat trial with no loose ends to a full investigation that aimed to bring as many of those responsible for the bombing to justice.

April 19 is also the anniversary of the assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. I have little sympathy for the ideas or practices of this group, and let's be clear: the proper way to battle federal agents bearing warrants, no matter how aggressive or obnoxious or threatening they are, is not with a gun but rather through the courts, but the February raid and the April assault are black marks on the U.S. government, which clearly denied these people their constitutional rights. For the best account I've read of the various issues raised by the assault -- legal, religious and social -- read Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict, edited by Stuart A. Wright. It's a fascinating -- and deeply disturbing -- read.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:20 PM | Comments (6)

April 17, 2004

Amygdala on Decatur

Gary Farber of the always engaging Amygdala has written some fascinating posts about Stephen Decatur (as he pointed out in a comment below). Geez, here I am spending $25 on a book when all I had to do was turn to the first blog on my blogroll.

I found one post here, well worth reading, about the boarding of the Philadelphia -- one of Decatur's finest moments. Unfortunately, Gary's search engine seems to return words it's interested in rather than the one I typed in (for Decatur, it returned doctor and daughter, but no Decatur, not even the post I found on Google), and I'm not feeling particularly inventive tonight, or else I'd track them down.

By the way, if Gary ever gets around to writing a Decatur biography, he can count on my buying it...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:48 PM | Comments (0)

April 15, 2004

Apologies...

...for the lousy posts lately. Work has been exhausting, the home renovations have entered another disruptive phase (well, correction -- the disruptive phase should be over by Sunday, at which point ideofact will slowly begin the process of moving into its newly refurbished global headquarters, complete with all the modern amenities), and on top of it all, we had to do our taxes. More involved blogging should resume next week.

For those interested, the Washington Post had a nice story about the Decatur House today.

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

April 13, 2004

Glory

What a pleasant surprise. James Tertius de Kay's book, A Rage for Glory: The Life of Commodore Stephen Decatur, USN, is a more gripping read than the Ian Fleming novels I've recently been working my way through. I particularly enjoyed Lieutenant Decatur's speech to his crewmen before setting out in the U.S.S. Essex in the Summer of 1801 to enforce Thomas Jefferson's policy of opposing the Barbary pirates:

COMRADES -- We are now about to embark upon an expedition which may terminate in our sudden deaths, our perptetual slavery, or our immortal glory. The event is left for futurity to determine. The first quality of a good seaman, is, personal courage, -- the second, obedience to orders, -- the third, fortitude under sufferings; to thsee may be added, an ardent love of country. I need say no more -- I am confident you possess them all.

Like the country that produced its speaker, this statement in itself was revolutionary, as de Kay notes: "The members of the crew, stunned to hear themselves addressed as equals -- an absolutely unheard of departure for a naval officer -- roared their approval."

Posted by Ideofact at 11:58 PM | Comments (2)

April 11, 2004

Religion & writing

This is far too grand a title for such a short post, but I came across a rather remarkable phrasing in the introduction to Agaisnt the Heresies Book 1, the work by the second century Church father St. Irenaeus of Lyon. The translator, Dominic J. Unger, suggested,

Since tradition existed before the the writings of the New Testament it is an absolute source of revelation. It is the teaching of the living Church, which would have existed even if nothing had been committed to writing.

Nothing committed to writing. That's a rather astonishing idea. No Gospels. No "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone," and no, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's." No St. Jerome, no Tyndale, no Protestant Reformation.

A rather fascinating idea.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:43 PM | Comments (2)

April 10, 2004

Freedom's mercenaries

Last weekend, the five year old and I toured the Stephen Decatur House Museum on Lafayette Park, quite literally a stone's throw from the White House. The five year old loved it, not least because the tour begins at what was once the back door of the house, where Decatur's ghost, it is said, used to be seen hurrying from the house carrying his dueling pistols (Decatur was killed in a duel). His apparition was also seen, so the legends go, staring pensively from his second floor window; he squeezed my hand a bit tighter as we went up to the second floor. Alas, the ghost made no appearance, but the thrill (in his mind at least) was ever present.

Decatur was a pirate hunter -- he took part in the smashing of the Barbary Pirates, and gained a reputation for valor and heroism in the process. (I recently picked up a copy of A Rage for Glory: The Life of Commodore Stephen Decatur, USN by James Tertius de Kay -- I'm looking forward to reading it, but I should note that my knowledge of Decatur is fairly limited.) Given that pirates rate fairly high on the five year old's list of preoccupations, he listened in rapt attention to the tour guide, who, I should add, was excellent. Unlike some other Washington area tours I've been on, this one struck a fairly good balance between the importance of the historical figure to whom the house was attached and the architectural and design features of the building itself. My sometimes fidgety son never lost interest, which is a testament to the skill of the tour guide in making the house come alive.

The house itself is fantastic -- designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who also designed some of the interiors of the U.S. Capitol as well as working for a time with Jefferson on his plans for Monticello (according to the guide). I found it especially interesting to learn how Decatur paid for it: the privateers who went after the Barbary pirates were allowed to keep as prizes any pirate ships they captured. Decatur excelled in this lucrative business so much that he could afford to build a mansion a few blocks from the White House.

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

April 09, 2004

Solicitation

I am by no means a big fan of p0rn0graphy. Some of the emails I get contain pictures that seem to me about as explicit and arousing as a gynecological exam (well, maybe some people find those arousing), I'm forever annoyed at having to delete spam comments from this blog pointing to unsavory sites, and I truly worry about what my five year old will encounter when, a few years from now, he begins clicking around the Internet. That said, I found this analysis by Eugene Volokh on what form the coming crackdown on pornography would take to be extremely disturbing. Read it, and the Baltimore Sun story to which he links.

To briefly summarize, Volokh sees no way to approach the problem without first, presumably, being able to uphold the legality of blocking Internet sites, and then, well, blocking them.

It seems to me that this approach is aimed ultimately at preventing consumers from being able to buy the stuff. What I've always wondered is this: In most jurisdictions in the United States, it's illegal to both solicit sex for money and to provide it for money, unless, apparently, a camera is present. It seems to me that if there are real victims of the skin trade, it's those who perform in the films. Whether or not the odd arrest would be likely ultimately to help or hurt them (I tend to think, in all honesty, it would be the latter) is another question altogether, but I think cracking down on obscenity is foolish when a great deal of the p0rn0graphy industry is based on exchanging money for sex.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:42 PM | Comments (0)

April 08, 2004

Deep in the Heart

Having read Goldfinger and From Russia With Love (pace, Burgess, but, as is often the case, I'm with JFK on this one -- I much preferred the latter novel, despite its disappointing ending: Hint, remember the shoes Lotte Lenya--Rosa Kleb in the film--wore? They were involved...), I decided to take a tour through the rest of the Fleming oeuvre. I've noted this tendency in myself before -- in the past, I've gone on Raymond Chandler, Michael Dibdin, Ross MacDonald and Dashiell Hammett kicks -- usually when I've reached a mental nadir and want to fill every conscience moment not filled with work or family or what not with pleasurable fiction. I want a story and I want it told well. I'm happy to say Fleming, in very economical prose, has delivered.

So now I'm reading Casino Royale, the very first of the Bond novels, where we meet Felix Leiter (who is described as looking nothing like Jack Lord, but that's to be expected), hear of some M fellow, and of course are introduced to Bond. The opening paragraph of the novel make one want to read the next:

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling -- a compost of greed and tension -- becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.

There follows high stakes gambling with a Soviet agent, assassination attempts, a car chase, torture, a near escape -- all quite thrilling. I particularly liked the passage when Felix Leiter is introduced:

It turned out that Leiter was from Texas. While he talked on about his job with the Joint Intelligence Staff of NATO and the difficulty of maintaining security in an organization where so many nationalities were represented, Bond reflected that good Americans were fine people and that most of them seemed to come from Texas.

Leiter, we learn, is also an ex-Marine.

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

April 07, 2004

Uh oh

I bought a new Phillies cap today -- the sort they wore in my youth, when Steve Carlton was the most dominant pitcher in baseball, Mike Schmidt the premiere power hitter, Larry Bowa the slick fielding shortstop...well, I'd go on, but I'd bore you. In any case, the Phillies won their first game of the season. In the back of my otherwise reasonably rational mind, there's a little voice saying, "If you keep wearing the hat, they'll keep winning!"

Baseball superstitions are my favorite superstitions -- Wade Boggs eating chicken every day because he broke out of a slump and went 4-4 (or some such) on a day when he ate chicken; Jim Fregosi, the manager of the great '93 Phillies squad, wearing a heavy jacket even in the dog days of summer because they were winning when he wore the jacket. Correlation is never the same as causation, except in the mind of rabid fans.

I'll keep wearing the hat -- it's a cool hat -- but I'll do my best not to attribute the fortunes of my team to silly superstitions.

Let's see...I did a blog entry about Kurds and Saladin on the day the Phillies won their first game, so maybe if I...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:16 PM | Comments (3)

Saladins of liberty

The Muslim hero of the Crusades, the man who showed tremendous diplomatic and military skill, holding together a fractious group for a common purpose, was Saladin, a Kurd. Can the Kurds play the same role, albeit with a different end in mind, in the 21st century? Tara Welat thinks so:

There is no question that a people once free politically can serve the cause of humanity all the more profoundly. Only when the Kurds are truly free will they become the real friends of democracy for they will have joined the love of liberty with the love of equality. Indeed, the Kurdish people are one of the most suitable people in the Middle East to carry the torch of democracy. They have mild manners, they prize liberty, and they have natural tolerance of differences – they speak Kurmanji, Sorani, and Zazaki, they are Sunnis, Alevis, Yezidis, Christians and Jews, and they have shown a respect for the minorities that have lived among them. By ennobling Kurdish patriotism, which involves strengthening our love of freedom, the Kurds will become the greatest defenders of democracy in the Middle East.

I am still of two minds about whether Kurdish independence or a federated Iraq with a Kurdish state is preferable, but I'm leaning more and more toward the former.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2004

Islamism on a human face

I'd been meaning to mention this post by Zack of Procrastination, noting that Islamists are not monolithic, that there are variations among them. I'm probably as guilty as anyone of tossing the term around without offering much of a definition, but I would add in my defense that while there were variations among German, Italian and Spanish fascism, or Soviet, Chinese and Yugosalvian communism, that all these systems are illiberal, that the only difference is how heavy is the one wearing the boot while standing on your face.

Take Rachid al-Ghannouchi, one of the leaders of the Islamic Tendency Movement (it sounds better in French -- Mouvement de la Tendance Islamique) in Tunisia in the 1980s, which later renamed itself Hizb al-Nahda (the Renaissance Party). I can't recall whether MTI was behind a series of bombings in the 1980s aimed, as Nazih Ayubi puts it in Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World,

...such symbols of moral laxity and cultural decadence as cafes and patisseries that serve food and drink during times of fasting, or hotels that cater to the tourist hordes of 'semi-naked' Europeans and Americans

...but I'll check when I get a minute to look up the old clips on Nexis. But consider this 1994 piece he wrote on Israel, particularly this passage:


Zionism, then, nurtured by and in turn nurturing this global pseudo-civilization, represents a secular onslaught on the heart of our Islamic nation. The Islamic project, by contrast, is its polar opposite, representing the hope that human civilization can be rescued from this new worship of the golden calf To speak of saving Palestine from the Zionists is to speak simultaneously of one's hope for a global liberation. The 'Palestinian cause' does not signify the simple reconquest of a patch of territory occupied by aggressors. It is not even about peace and war; Its implications go much further. For to strike at Zionism in Palestine is to strike at the enemy in its new citadel, which it has constructed at the center of the world, in the very heart of our Muslim nation, in a land which has always been of unlimited strategic and spiritual fecundity. The West, as a civilization, seems set to extend its influence to the heartland of the Old World, the better to destroy the surviving traces of spiritual resistance which have remained intact there, and finally to obliterate mans remaining hopes for the rebirth of a civilization which is qualitative and humane, rather than quantitative and secular.

He also calls for essentially a worldwide struggle against Israel, a tiny patch of land where a few million Jews live, to usher in the new millennium. I wonder what he thinks will happen to those Jews should their defenses fail, and their government fall. What percentage does he think would be killed in a war? In the aftermath of war? Forced to emigrate?

Can you judge someone by the company they keep? Al-Ghannouchi seems to be quite chummy with the blood-soaked mullahs of Iran:

Rachid Al-Ghannouchi, the leader of the An-Nahdha has regularly visited Tehran and carries a Sudanese passport given to him by Sudan at Iran's behest. In a meeting on March 28, 1991, with Tehran University students visiting Algiers, he stressed, "Iranian youths' efforts inspired university students in Tunisia to resist Habib Bourguiba's rule. Our movement was in dire need of Islamic revolutionary ideals which marked a turning point in our movement."

The article -- actually, a book chapter -- provides references for those statements.

And here's a brief summary of his thought from a book review.

Although Ghannouchi is widely characterised as a ‘democrat’ – a ‘democrat within Islamism’ in Tamimi’s title – it is important to note that he has a particular understanding of democracy, as a set of mechanisms for guaranteeing the security of the people from authoritarian hegemony. Unlike many so-called Islamic democrats, he has no illusions about Western liberalism democracy, arguing that liberal values in general, and their secular foundations in particular, are a product of the Western historical experience and have no place in Islamic societies or the ‘democratic’ institutions that they need. It is this conceptual clarity which distinguishes him from many other Islamic democrats.

I don't know much about the rather charming Fazlur Rahman, who wants to "use the state as an instrument of 'moral-religious' values." It is not the state, but the people who are the source of moral religious values. It is the state that must be restrained in order to ensure it is responsive to the people's values. I'll have to look into him.

Note: I should have pointed out in this post that Zack was linking to this post by Thebit of Muslims Under Progress.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

April 05, 2004

Carey, revisited

A different perspectice on the speech by Lord George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury (I noted it here) on Islam, Christianity and terror:

n trying to understand the roots of present Islamic fundamentalism, Lord Carey makes wrong generalisations and serious political omissions. In spite of his correct starting principle that Islam includes many different nations and groups, he ultimately identifies Islam with Arab or Arab causes which is a total mystification. For example he makes such a sweeping generalization: "1967 [the year of Arabs’ defeat by Israel] represents a real politicising of Islam in the hearts and minds of many Muslims." T his is wrong. Maybe 1967 affected some sections of Arab societies to some extent, but not the hearts and minds of many Muslims." In fact when this war happened we as Kurds were suffering from Arab repression in South (Iraqi-occupied) Kurdistan.

We were young students at a secondary school where we were deprived from studying in our own language. So when the Arabs were defeated by Israel we celebrated this happy occasion as Arab oppression had inevitably made the Kurds emotionally and ideologically anti-Arab. I don’t think Muslim societies anywhere were much affected by this apart from rulers who usually and hypocritically express tribal solidarity without this meaning anything. But 1967 was indeed a blow to Arab nationalism and threatened to undermine Arab rulers even such charismatic modern revolutionary figures as Jamal bad al-Nasir. Therefore it was Arab nationalist elite which returned to Islam as the ideology of Arabism which is used not only against Israel and non-Muslims but used more aggressively and lethally against colonised non-Arab Muslim nations within Arab countries.

I found this passage especially relevant:

We cannot talk about legitimate political demands in the context of Islam because in the absence of democracy and freedom of expression, thought and opposition in Middle Eastern Islamic societies, it is impossible to know what people themselves think and want, and whose political demands are those projected by fundamentalists and how these demands are identified and enacted. On the other hand, money remains a major factor in the possibility of any extremist Islamic enterprise. Al-Qaida would have been nothing without unaccountable millions of dollars available to it to plan its activities ideologically, organisationally and logistically.

Here we must add another fundamental factor in the success of Al-Qaida which is the freedom available in Western democracies for fundamentalist Islamic groups to organise, indoctrinate and enact their plans in hundreds of mosques and Islamic centres and schools allowed in the West in the name of multi-faith and multi-cultural societies. As these free activities to politicise Islam against state is not allowed in Muslim societies themselves, it is no wonder that they export their radical elements to the West to preach and practise there.

Emphasis added. Read the whole thing...

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

April 04, 2004

Antigone

In a scene from the film version of Umberto Eco's wonderful novel, The Name of the Rose, Brother William of Baskerville and Adso find themselves in a labyrinthine library. Adso unravels a strand from his habit and ties it to a bannister, allowing the pair to find their way out. Brother William drily remarks that Adso has benefited from his classical education.

While limited practical use can be made of the tale of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur, there is obviously more of value in the classics than clever strategems to defeat a labyrinth. To cite one example, the Founders, particularly James Madison, were influenced by Polybius' history of the Roman Republic, which described how Rome had managed to incorporate the best features of democracy, oligarchy and dictatorship, with a senate balancing an executive balanced by independent judges. To cite another, there is Sophocles' play Antigone, which pits the individual against the state and religious morality against temporal authority. (There is a fantastic study of the impact of the play on enlightenment, romantic and modern thought by the great critic George Steiner, Antigones. I note that the current edition, unlike mine, doesn't use the wonderful line drawing by Jean Cocteau on its cover -- too bad.)

I thought of Antigone when I read, last week, a commentary by Agit Can in KurdishMedia.com on the recent horror in Fallujah, where four American contractors providing security were murdered and had their corpses mutilated by, as he puts it, savages:

Yesterday the world was treated to news reports that demonstrated that a certain segment of the population of this city is comprised of savages. Not nationalistic fervor or fierceness in battle, but inhuman savagery guide their actions. Historical studies have led many to believe that the first pseudo-religious ritual observed among human beings was the burial of the dead. The right to a proper burial has always been universally accepted among all cultures, perhaps even before the very right to life. It goes without saying that the tenets of Islam, the predominant religion of the Iraq and the Middle East, and those of the other Abrahamic faiths all treat the human body, dead or alive, with the utmost respect.

The savages of Fallujah, who chanted slogans in favor of Islam and their beloved city, murdered four innocent people by attacking their vehicle in a meticulously planned ambush and proceeded to desecrate the bodies of their prey in the most animalistic way imaginable, burning the bodies, dismembering them, and hanging some pieces of the corpses from a bridge while displaying another piece of flesh by hanging it from a power line. This satanic ritual was treated as a community event, as proud men of all ages congregated around the inferno to cheer, chant, and dance, as their smiling compatriots desecrated the bodies. Young children stomped on the bodies and posed with them.

To borrow a term from Qutb, the barbarians of Fallujah are certainly in a state of jahili. Of course, Qutb would argue that the only reason to read the likes of Sophocles is to understand why such writers themselves are jahili, and not for any moral instruction. But I tend to think that the world could do with a bit more classical education.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:30 PM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2004

What did I...

...do to deserve this? Aziz tags me with the "intellectual" label, when I consider myself to be something of an anti-intellectual (the terms, for what it's worth, are rather imprecise). In any case, it's the other fellows he lumps me in with who should really be offended...

In other completely unrelated news, I'm going to post, tomorrow night, my April 1st post (I'll add a link when I'm done), which I started but couldn't finish at the time. (I had planned to do it tonight, but I ended up spending a couple of hours enjoying myslef instead).

Posted by Ideofact at 11:40 PM | Comments (1)