December 30, 2004


For those who care about such tedium, I've been having a lengthy exchange with a frequent commenter here on ideofact, Abu Noor al-Irlandee, who is a defender of Sayyid Qutb. In our exchange, I pointed out that it seems that he finds nothing to fault in Qutb, to which he replied,

You are correct that it may seem as if I am defending Qutb on every point you make but really it's just because I don't think you've made any valid criticisms, at least none that I've understood correctly.

Now, I've written dozens of posts on Sayyid Qutb's various works, so it would certainly be unfair of me to assume he (or anyone else, for that matter) had bothered to read them all. But this one, based on my reading of the eighth chapter of Milestones, contained a rather indefensible bit of anti-Semitism:

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.

Just curious to know whether someone who reads about, say, Narts or Nabateans, is actually fuelling world Jewry's attempt to capture all the wealth of mankind.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:58 PM | Comments (18)

December 29, 2004

4 Qutb I:3

I'm doing exactly what I didn't want to do in blogging Sayyid Qutb's The Islamic Concept and its Characteristics; instead of glossing, I'm doing far too much quoting. In his introduction, it is perhaps suffice to say that Qutb borrows from Fichte and the German romantics and argues against an intellectual approach to Islam, but rather an emotional one. Once again Islam is the delicate crystal that the bull of Western thought shatters (this, at least, is a recurring theme in all the works of Qutb I have read so far), once again the countless good Muslims who saw no contradiction between their faith and reading, say, Aristotle are cast aside, once more none of Islamic history measures up to Qutb's ideal of Islam. And finally, once again Qutb's technique is to criticize and call un-Islamic those with whom he disagrees, without offering anything concrete in their stead.

Particulars, though, are often what illuminate Qutb's thought in a way that generalizations don't convey. To cite one example, Qutb explains that, as part of his approach, he is not responding to any particular critique of or deviation by the faithful -- doing so can have disastrous results. He explains:

...some Christian missionaries and some Zionist authors have accused Islam of being a religion of the sword, asserting that it was spread by the sword, whereupon some defenders of Islam from among us immediately rose up to remove this "blemish" from Islam. In their zeal to "defend" Islam against these vicious attacks, they downgraded the place of jihad in Islam by narrowing its sphere of application and by apologetically stating that jihad is permitted only for "defensive" purposes, in the narrow current technical sense of the word. They also lost sight of the fact that Islam, in its role as the last divinely-revealed guidance for mankind, has a natural duty, and therefore the right, to establish its particular system as preeminent on earth in order that the whole of mankind may benefit from its just, balanced, and humane laws, and so that every individual living under this system may enjoy freedom of belief. "There is no compulsion in religion" is part of this faith.

Yes, and war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strenghth...

Posted by Ideofact at 01:00 AM | Comments (2)

December 28, 2004


Click here. Give if you can. It's important.

I can't think of a natural disaster in my lifetime that's more deadly.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:34 PM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2004

Ever fallen in love?


The above still is from the 1984 film Stranger than Paradise. It's a fine film; the first third, in which a young Hungarian woman who's come straight from Budapest spends ten days with her Americanized cousin in New York is my favorite. Cousin Willie and, to a lesser degree, his friend Eddie, develop a strange infatuation with Eva, driving to Cleveland to visit her and then traveling to Florida with her. There's an obliqueness to the whole thing that's very effective -- if Willie (or Eddie for that matter) has any feelings for Eva, it's best expressed by their inability to think of anything to do in Cleveland other than waiting for her to get off of work.

Eva's character was fascinated by the great Screamin' Jay Hawkins ("He's my main man," she says at one point), who wrote and recorded the most raucous version of "I put a spell on you." Eszter Balint, the actress who played Eva, has a pair of quirky records out herself -- I particularly liked the song Cheeseman, although Amsterdam Crown isn't bad either.

Incidentally, this interview with Balint is an interesting read (and a reminder of that early '80s cultural milieu that produced Stranger than Paradise, among other things...

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

December 22, 2004

New motto

The line was meant as an utter condemnation of the West, of a society whose direction is determined by its members' wants and needs, whims and desires, of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, a condemnation of societies not run by the autocratic rule of an overreaching mad tyranny impoverishing and slaughtering its faceless masses in never ending wars aimed at national greatness or religious purity -- and it's so good that I think I'll make it ideofact's new motto:

"Striving for the better within the circle of the commonplace."

Quoted in Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies, by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:40 PM | Comments (0)

Qutb, Sayyid 2)

Biography isn't destiny, but sometimes a little context is in order, particularly so when we consider the writings of Sayyid Qutb. What follows is not so much a biographical essay, but a few odds and ends I've picked up here and there about Qutb that I either help explain or further muddy the question, "Who was Sayyid Qutb?" [A previous post considering this question can be found here.]

It's worth noting out that there's little in Qutb's biography to suggest that he himself was a violent man (though such notations can be meaningless -- the wheelchair-bound Sheikh Yassin comes to mind). The Egyptian authorities did arrest Qutb in 1954, imprisoned him for years, and later, in 1966, tried him for treason (this essay, rather sympathetic to Qutb, says that the charge was "plotting to bring about a Marxist coup), but most likely Qutb wasn't actively engaged in plotting of any sort (which doesn't mean he didn't advocate violence -- he certainly did, and argued that jihad could not be merely defensive -- the sword had to spread the one true faith). Of course, I could well be wrong -- he may well have issued secret orders to his devotees to assassinate the looming Satan -- Nasser -- but my hunch is that Qutb probably had little talent for or interest in the specifics of terror; his interests lay elsewhere.

Which is not to say that the figure of Gamal Abdel Nasser wasn't critical in Qutb's thinking. From our vantage point, Egyptian politics in the 1940s, 50s and 60s may seem to be a remote subject, but this was the milieu from which Qutb's thought emerged, and which led Qutb to label as jahiliyyah -- that horrible society of incest and corruption, an equivalent of Sodom and Gamorrah -- most of the modern world. Qutb's expansion of jahiliyyah may well have been a reaction to Nasser.

It's important to note that Qutb didn't spring full blown from Islamic or Arabic culture like Athena from Zeus' head. As a child he was a fairly diligent memorizer of the Qur'an; in his youth the provincial Qutb was shocked by the free and easy and cosmopolitan ways of British Cairo, but that shock didn't prevent him from at one point endorsing nudism (that is, nudism) as a means of regenerating Arab society. Qutb was close to the Muslim Brotherhood in the heady days before the free officers' revolt that brought Nasser to power, but he was also close to those officers as well. Nazih Ayubi related, in Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World, that Qutb,

...was no outsider to the revolution. He had met Nasser before the coup, and pinned great hopes on his movement. Indeed he had cooperated directly with the revolution from the beginning and had an office at the headquarters of the Revolutionary Command Council, where he was in charge of restructuring school curricula for the new regime. He was also later appointed as secretary-general to the Liberation Rally which had been announded in 1953 as the regime's first experiment with the single polticial organization formula. Qutb also knew Kamal al-Din Husain, the Free Officer with Ikhwan [or Muslim Brotherhood -- ideofact] sympathies who proposed him as a Minister of Education and who required the teaching of his nationalist hymns in government schools. Indeed Qutb's support for the revolution was so strong that he sent an open letter to Muhammad Nagib asking the latter to establish a 'just dictatorship' in the land through the revolution.

Dictatorship is what the Egyptians got, of course, and to Qutb's lights it was unjust. The military junta started acting like a junta, and once it had consolidated its power the Ikhwan -- which switched its allegiances to Nasser when Nagib, the first revolutionary leader of Egypt, got in Nasser's way -- ceased to serve a useful purpose. It was suppressed, along with anyone else who might challenge Nasser.

Ayubi notes two things that happened to Qutb at this juncture. Most obviously, the betrayal by Nasser and the Free Officers must have been, in Ayubi's words, psychologically devastating. (In fairness to Nasser, one should probably point out that Ikhwan in their turn saw him as a means to fulfilling their end -- seizing power and doing away with the "modernizing" Free Officers and pan-Arabists.) Qutb moved firmly into the Ikhwan camp in response. Secondly, and more subtly -- Nasser adopted much of the Ikhwan's (and Qutb's) social project. One party rule, enforced solidarity among the classes, nationalization of resources and industries, and so on. Qutb, in prison, watched in bitterness as the project he had envisioned as one of Islamic renewal failed under Nasser's stewardship. Qutb's writings ceased to offer social prescriptions on the order of the recommendations offered at the end of Social Justice in Islam. Instead (again quoting Ayubi) Qutb offered something else:

...the Qutbian discourse is political in only a rather unusual sense. It tends to influence people's thoughts and actions in a psychologically tense way that creates in the individual not the ability to reconstruct reality, but rather the dream of breaking with that reality. It is a position of utter refusal to enter into any dialectical relationship with objective realities or to prepare any societal alternatives to the status quo. Rather, the task is to obliterate the existing order completley, and it is only then that the opportunity for applying options and solutions may emerge.

A dream of breaking with reality, a refusal to enter into any dialectical relationship with reality -- that seems to be a fairly good description of those who plotted and carried out the September 11 attacks.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:55 AM | Comments (13)

December 21, 2004


I'm sure many would argue that Russia ceased to be "partly free" long ago -- often the media is the best canary in the coal mine. I wonder, though, how many people would feel comfortable making the argument that Russians, after all, are incapable of democracy, that Russian culture is incompatible with democracy, that Russians are better off with the whip of autocracy and tyranny, that the best one can hope for is that the wearer of the boot treads softly on Russian faces, rather than grinding them beneath his heels, that Russians, by virtue of being Russian, are not endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights ...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:01 PM | Comments (2)

December 20, 2004


Interesting tidbit from Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies, by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit:

Most revolutions, religious, political, or combinations of both, are born in citites, as the brainchildren of disaffected city dwellers. Nikola Koljevic, to mention but one typical case, was a Shakespeare scholar from Sarajevo. He spent time in London and the United States. His English was fluent. He was a citizen of the most cosmopolitan place in the Balkans, a secular city of Bosnians, Serbs, Jews, and Croats, a city famous for its libraries, universities, and cafes, a city of learning and trade. Yet there he was, in the mid-1990s, watching his city burn from the surrounding hills. The orders to shell Sarajevo, in the name of ethnic purity and the "resurrection of Serbdom," had been signed by Nikola Koljevic, Shakespeare scholar.

I'm not sure how being a Shakespeare scholar makes one the epitome of urbanization or, for that matter, how the barbarism of the Serb nationalists could be termed a revolution (this book is filled with paragraphs that don't hold up under close inspection), but what I find interesting is why anyone would confuse intelligence or education with a moral sense, as if the former automatically demanded the latter.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:44 AM | Comments (3)

December 16, 2004


Sorry about the delay in getting back to Sayyid Qutb. It's been longer than I anticipated, partly because it's rather tedious to prop a book open on my knees and type in passages from his book, or from others, and partly because it's tedious to think about Qutb.

I was going to write something trying to tie together some information from Nazih Ayubi's Political Islam with the illusion of surveying infinite time that seems to pervade many works I'm encountering these days. But. There's a roaring fire (the first I've set here in the executive suite of ideofact worldwide corporate headquarters), an unexpected pleasure discovered while browsing, and one I haven't wanted to put down just yet. (Although why the back cover insists on calling Danilo Kis -- a Jew whose family came from Hungary -- a Serbian writer is beyond me; it is either a case of Serbian having lost all meaning, or yet another annexation.) In short, I'll get back to Qutb (there's a long way to go, and a great deal of interesting ground to cover) but just not tonight....

Posted by Ideofact at 12:16 AM | Comments (1)

December 15, 2004


Over the weekend, I came across the oddest passage in the book I've been reading on trilobites, one that partially answers, for me at least, a question I hinted at in connection with the conversion of longtime atheist Anthony Flew to deism (Aziz, by the way, has much more information on Flew). Which is, do we fault evolutionists or evolutionary science for the still-controversial nature of Darwin's theory.

Getting back to the trilobites -- in the book, Richard Fortey writes on page 182,

Without death there is little innovation. Extinction -- death of a species -- is part and parcel of evolutionary change. In the absence of this kind of extinction new developments would not prosper. In our own history, periods when ideas have been perpetuated by dogma, preventing replacement of old by new ideas, have also been times of stultifying stagnation. The Dark Ages in western society were the most static, least innovative of times. So the fact that trilobites were replaced by batches of successive species through their long history was a testimony to their evolutionary vigor.

The passage is endlessly bizarre -- but let's take it apart. First, we hear about extinction being a good thing. Then why do so many scientists argue for conservation of natural habitat, for heroic efforts to preserve endangered species? Aren't we then impeding new developments? A few pages on (page 185, to be exact), Fortey writes that human beings are "now causing another extinction as severe as that endured by the trilobites at the end of the Ordovician..." (ellipsis in original), and wonders whether we will have the wisdom to change our behavior. But why should we -- isn't our irrational attachment to whales, tigers and so on more or less analogous to the our attachment to stultifying dogma?

Speaking of which -- Fortey's equation of lack of extinction with the stultifying effect of old ideas not being driven out by new ideas is also weird. A stultifying, stable dogma might be, evolutionarily speaking, more advantageous than a shifting, innovative one. After all, it wasn't Medieval man who was on the verge of causing a catastrophic mass extinction (which, if the most pessimistic of some of the environmental doomsayers are correct, may well include the human species); it's modern man, with all our doodads and gadgets and geegaws. If Fortey's analogy holds, he should be demanding we forgo all the devil's devices and, Amish-like, return to a pastoral lifestyle in tiny self-sufficient, non-gas-guzzling communities. (The Amish, in fact, may be too modern.)

I could go on -- the Dark Ages were dark in part because the catastrophic collapse of Roman institutions -- of the classical world -- created a condition of anarchy -- a situation that surely was not the fault of those born during the Dark Ages. One of the things that restored, if not the political order of Rome, at least some sense of shared identity and cultural order, was Latin Christianity. Its monasteries did their best to preserve the fragments of classical learning in their possession. The vast majority of the population -- perhaps 90 to 95 percent -- were engaged in the tedious business of growing enough food to support the rest of the population. In such a context, what sorts of new ideas does Fortey think were being suppressed?

I would go on to point out the number of dark age innovations -- the heavy plow, the stirrup, and so on, but there's not much point. Suffice it to say that Fortey chooses an unfortunate metaphor, and in doing so betrays a bit of prejudice, a fair amount of ignorance, and a suggestion that he doesn't really think things through. And he's one of the more engaging populizers of evolution ...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:09 AM | Comments (2)

December 14, 2004


I was a little surprised to hear, in advertisements promoting Martin Scorsese's new film The Aviator, that Hughes "fought a corrupt system," or some such. By far, I think, the finest book I've read on Hughes is Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele's work, Empire, which was based primarily on court documents, tax returns, government records, and hundreds of interviews. The Amazon page offers a fairly good summary:

Though he rose to fame after a record-setting flight around the world and the construction of an unprecedented fleet of airplanes, aerospace industry icon Howard Hughes wasted millions of dollars in production, swindled taxpayers through self-serving philanthropy projects and regularly lied to stockholders.

And that was all well before he went crazy in his later years. I suppose Scorsese's film will have its merits, but I doubt that historical accuracy will be one of them...

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

December 10, 2004

Deist revival

I found this story, about an 81 year old atheist deciding that in fact he's a deist, fairly interesting:

A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God more or less based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

The rest is worth reading as well, but what caught my eye is that a reasonably intelligent, non-specialist in biology or zoology or botany has concluded that given a choice between evolutionary theory as it exists today and a first cause or demiurge or divinity, he'd pick the latter. I'm not sure whether this is a fault of biological scientists or the science itself; I can say that I found, for example, last month's Was Darwin Wrong? feature in the National Geographic not especially impressive. It's all well and good to restate the basics of the theory -- I find them compelling -- but to do so without any attempt to offer responses to objections of evolutions various critics (many of whom, I presume, would, like Flew, prefer rational explanations), to do so without even acknowledging that there are thoughtful objections, didn't impress me.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:41 AM | Comments (3)

Never studied


Ray, pretend for one minute I don't know anything about metallurgy, physics or buildings...

Today we had the chimney for the wood burning stove cleaned. This evening, I decided what the hell, might as well try it out. It's about 56 degrees outside, which, as this site points out, isn't an ideal temperature for burning wood...

Over the many years in Technical Service during the early Fall, we would receive calls from customers complaining of awakening in the middle of the night to a smoke alarm, and finding a smoke filled room where their stove was located. Obviously this was disconcerting and prompted a call to see what was wrong with their stove.

We would first ask how cold was it outside during the night and how they loaded and set the stove for nighttime operation. Almost 99% of the time, the answer came back that it was in the high forties, early fifties (Fahrenheit). These temperatures would make the house uncomfortable if some type of heat was not utilized so it made sense that the woodstove was used. The problem that caused the smoke to fill the room and/or house was not a mechanical failure or design defect but instead, a lack of draft. The stove was improperly operated for the season.

Aside from the smell and having to open a bunch of windows, no harm done, except to my ego...No studying...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:22 AM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2004

Canned bread!

Well, I can't say that this came as a surprise:


brought to you by Quizilla

Posted by Ideofact at 12:57 PM | Comments (0)

Never mind


What's all this I hear about laptops potentially reducing male fertility?

In all seriousness, I've had a laptop for years, and while I have on rare occasions rested it on my lap, for the most part it's been used far more on library carrels, airplane seat trays, cafe tables...

By the way, I'm not entirely sure that Bacall is sitting on Bogart's lap, but I seem to recall the scene above from To Have and To Have Not that way...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:51 AM | Comments (1)

4 Qutb I:2

Just to be absolutely clear, my intention in the previous post was not to stir up sectarian arguments, it was to show the extent to which the Qutbian project depends on their being a single interpretation of Islam, to the exclusion of all others. If I were a Shi'ite, or a Sufi, or even a Sunni who didn't agree with the Qutbopian authorities on some point of doctrine or behavior, I don't think I would be in for a particularly pleasant time. Second, it was also to illustrate how Qutb regards (or disregards, as the case may be) history.

Tonight, I will begin a more systematic review Qutb's discussion of methodology in The Islamic Concpet and its Characteristics, dwelling on the particulars as I encounter them while giving some idea of his overall theme. As I noted in the previous post, Qutb's intent in writing the book is to explain to a modern audience the Islamic concept. In his introduction, he first explains the need for such an explanation: the Islamic concept accounts for all that exists; provides the individual with a complete guide for living and the society with a comprehensive framework; this society, in turn, is fated to spread the Islamic concept to the ends of the earth. Mankind requires the definition of the Islamic concept because the Islamic concept must define mankind, more or less. I don't know if a secret decoder ring is included in the bargain, but joining the Qutbian club provides the member with all kinds of benefits:

If a Muslim grasps the Islamic belief-concept and its essential constituents, he is guaranteed a role as a founding member of this dynamic ummah, with its special characteristics and distinguishing features, a member capable of leadership and grace.

Qutb then moves to a discussion of the Prophet's contemporaries and followers, contrasting this first generation of believers with those who followed: "Later generations drifted away from the Qur'an..." The zealousness of the first converts to a dynamic new faith may not be matched by that of their descendants; their descendants, by contrast, have the luxury of exploring the ideas and implications of their faith, grasping in a far more complete way what their forefathers felt in their guts. But for Qutb, the key thing is guts -- including the spilling of them and risk of having your own spilt that occurred during Islam's first and turbulent decades:

Later generations drifted away from the Qur'an, from its particular style, its guidance, and from the milieu of values and practice similar to those found in which the Qur'an was revealed. Only those living in such an atmosphere can truly understand the Qur'an and be inspired by it.

This is simply bizarre -- I suppose what Qutb is arguing is that men in calmer times are less able to appreciate the Qur'an, but how does this gibe with his contention (I'll get to it a bit later) that a pan-global caliphate run on Sharia' is the ultimate goal of Islam? If that's the case, wouldn't it necessarily drift from the Qur'an? And should it completely do away with the jahiliyyah -- that is, the pre-Islamic paganism in Arabia which Qutb unaccountably applies also to non-Arab, non-pagan Westerners like me -- how would it ever revive itself? Because it is impossible to fully appreciate the Qur'an absent the jahiliyyah:

No one can understand the Qur'an as it should be understood unless he lives amidst the toil and struggle accompanying the revival of the real Islamic way of life, with all its burdens, its sacrifices, its sorrows, and all the situations that arise in its confrontation with jahiliyyah at any given time. wait a minute...only Muslims who face the sacrifices and sorrows of confronting the likes of yours truly can truly understand the Qur'an as it should be understood, and the same Qur'an demands that they, if not kill me, at least deprive me of my own government and laws and customs and scantily clad women in Robert Palmer videos so that there is no jahiliyyah so that no one can understand the Qur'an as it should be understood so future generations can drift away from the Qur'an.


Qutb doesn't close that loop; rather, he's only interested in returning to one of his common themes: that his time and place (Nasserist Egypt, the 1950s and 1960s) is no different from the world in which the Prophet found himself in the 7th Century when the first words of the Qur'an were revealed to him. I mentioned previously that I'd offer some biographical details on Qutb, and I'll get to them, but not until the next post (sorry); suffice it to say here that part of the Qutbian project is an attempt to conjure in his followers a zealousness that he hopes will match that of the first followers of the Prophet. In the text, Qutb quotes a series of verses from the Qur'an describing how the first Muslims received the revelation, then he returns to the notion that only those who confront the jahiliyyah truly understand the Qur'an. Then he describes the process by which successive generations "drifted" from the Qur'an, and when it started:

The early days of struggle for the propagation of the Faith and of jihad had given way to a period of ease and comfort. At the same time, certain political occurrences, harking back to disputes between 'Ali and Muawiiyah, had raised various thorny philosophical and religious issues and caused the contending parties to support their position by rational argument.

Since we began with Shi'a, perhaps it's best to end with Shi'a for now. More tomorrow...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:05 AM | Comments (1)

December 08, 2004

Birds, stone

Reading this...

A bird known by her wing band number, 256, is about to cause a huge flap in genetics, one which could change our understanding of human evolution and bird behaviour and help to prevent another global influenza pandemic.

...provides a useful illustration of a point I was trying to make here. Our old friend Sayyid Qutb puts in an appearance.

Posted by Ideofact at 09:58 PM | Comments (0)

Veiled links

Zack of Procrastination ably critiques a warning of the dangers of gender mixing in blog comment boxes.

Posted by Ideofact at 01:40 AM | Comments (1)

4 Qutb I:1

The first section of Sayyid Qutb's work The Islamic Concept and Its Characteristics is an introduction, translated as "A word about the methodology," which is somewhat appropriate since I'm going to write a bit about both his methodology and mine. Since it's my blog, I get to go first.

As I go through Qutb's work, I'm going to be looking at two issues: one, the wide gap between Qutb's thought and Islamic precepts and practices; and two, the extent to which Qutb's "Islamic" concept is totalitarian in nature. As I come across them, I will point out passages that imply the need and even the morality of using violence in the Qutbian project. I should add that this may not be the only Qutb series going on at ideofact -- I might also continue the definitional series (Qutb, Sayyid 1) was the first) with a link-rich, biographical essay. (On the other hand, I might just fold some of that into this series.)

But on to Qutb's introduction, in which he modestly explains that the purpose of his slim volume is to offer to a modern audience an explanation of the Islamic concept which a Muslim needs "because it provides him with a comprehensive explanation of all that exists, on the basis of which he relates to the world." The Qutbian concept (I hesitate to call it Islamic, for reasons I will make clear in a moment; Qutbesque is a more interesting looking word; perhaps I'll switch to that) is also important because it defines a Muslim's way of life and the way of life of every aspect of the Ummah, or community of believers. Qutb then goes on to explain the method of arriving at this Islamic concept, which more or less involves thinking Islamically, that is, not using foreign philosophical concepts, not relying solely on cold reason, and dismissing entirely troublesome nuisances like, oh, say the Shi'ites.

In the past, I've noted that a consequence of Qutb's Islamist political philosophy would be a state demanding of its citizens belief in a single, uniform version of Islam, one that would be defined, presumably, by Qutb or whoever happened to be leading his vanguard -- a single interpretation which never existed historically. Historically, because of the Sunni-Shi'ite split, splits among Shi'ites and Sunnis, the emergence of Sufis, and so on, to be a member of the Muslim ummah required a kind of liberal tolerance, especially in cosmopolitan centers, which, if not codified in law, was carried out in practice. But Qutb will have none of that, and even proposes to undo history:

[A]fter the murder of 'Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him), the Islamic world faced many practical problems. People began to interpret the verses of the Qur'an to suit their own purposes, giving them far-fetched meanings. Moreover, arguments were put forward for and against various sectarian views, each seeking support for its opinions from philosophy and scholastic theology. Most such arguments were biased. Consequently, such sources, biased as they are, cannot be relied upon to present the pure Islamic thought. Its characteristics and constituents must be derived from the fixed text of the Qur'an and must be free of such pollutants as the legacy fo history. Indeed, it is better to set aside this entire legacy. [emphasis added.]

'Uthman was the third of the rightly guided Caliphs; his successor was Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the nephew of the Prophet whom Shi'ites regard as the rightful heir of the Prophet. Presumably it is under Ali's rule that "people began to interpret verses of the Qur'an to suit their own purposes." We can be certain, however, that Islam "must be free of such pollutants as the legacy of history." Apparently for Qutb, there are three rightly guided Caliphs rather than four.

This is not an insignificant passage. For Shi'ites, the history of 'Ali is an ineffable component of their faith (I am perhaps not stating this well; it's getting late and I'm tired, so forgive me if I don't get this quite right). The catastrophe began when Abu Bakr became the first Caliph, chosen over 'Ali -- for a Shi'ite, in other words, it's not possible to find congruence with Sunni beliefs by limiting oneself to the first three Caliphs. (Some Shi'ites -- by no means a majority, I think -- believe that the Qur'an itself was altered in order to remove references to 'Ali being the successor to the Prophet, which I think is indicative of the depth of the split.) So Qutb's wording here is rather telling -- for him the Shi'ites simply don't exist except as people who interpret verses of the Qur'an to suit their own purposes, who are polluted by the legacy of history. If I am not mistaken, Qutb is suggesting that 'Ali and the Shi'ites be airbrushed out of the Islam, what else can "it is better to set aside this entire legacy" possibly mean?

Posted by Ideofact at 12:14 AM | Comments (5)

December 07, 2004


Thanks to J. Cassian for his translation of The Death of Soslan -- it's a long read, but well worth the effort (which won't be nearly as great as that of Mr. Cassian).

This site has more on the Narts -- I have to admit, I'd never heard of them before.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:42 PM | Comments (1)

An appropriate response

I was glad to see that Rowan Atkinson's common sense matches the same high level as his comedic sense. Atkinson has opposed a law in the UK that would make criticism or ridicule of religious beliefs a crime:

Mr Atkinson told a meeting at the House of Commons on Monday night there are "quite a few sketches" he has performed which would come into conflict with the proposed law.

He added: "To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom.

"The freedom to criticise ideas, any ideas - even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society.

"A law which attempts to say you can criticise and ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed."

He said he had sympathy with the law's backers, particular British Muslims, but added: "I appreciate this measure is an attempt to provide comfort and protection to them.

"But unfortunately it is wholly inappropriate response far more likely to promote tension between communities than tolerance."

Well said.

Incidentally, Atkinson's Mr. Bean is, in my humble opinion, a character as memorable as Chaplin's little tramp.


Posted by Ideofact at 09:21 PM | Comments (1)

December 06, 2004

Weakness heckled

Imagine if these students had a chance to address the mullahs...

Posted by Ideofact at 06:18 PM | Comments (0)

What do they have against mimes?

Ghost of a Flea points to this story which, as the night has worn on, has bothered me more and more:

THE VATICAN is giving “serious consideration” to apologising for the persecution that led to the suppression of the Knights Templar.

The suppression, which began on Friday , October 13, 1307, gave Friday the Thirteenth its superstitious legacy.

A Templar Order in Britain that claims to be descended from the original Knights Templar has asked that the Pope should make the apology.

Apologies of this sort are absurd, but assuming that a current Pope can apologize for the actions of his predecessors (and, as I noted in a comment over at Flea, it's really the Capetians who should apologize, since it was the French king Philip the Fair who took the lead in suppressing the order -- this book gives a fairly gripping account of it), then there must be someone extant to whom to apologize. The Templars were a monastic order; brothers had to be celibate, so to the extent that any ancestors of Templars are extant, it is because the order was suppressed.

I don't know how an order can claim descent from another order -- the Templars like any other Catholic order require Church sanction; once that was withdrawn the Templars ceased to exist. As to those individuals who claim to be Templars, I wonder how many of the order's practices, as described by its spiritual father, St. Bernard of Clairvaux:

They are wary of all excesses in food and dress; they concern themselves only with necessities. They have a joyous and sober life in their community, without women and without children. That they might lack no evangelical perfection, they live without private property, in one house, in one way, eager to safeguard spiritual oneness within the bounds of their peace. You could say that all their multitude has but one heart and one spirit, to such an extent does each of them strive, not to fulfill his private desires, but rather to obey his master. At no time do they sit at leisure or wander adventurously; rather on those rare occasions when they are not engaged, they repair the wear and tear that their clothes and armor have suffered, bring things to order, and generally see to whatever their master's will and communal necessity dictate, in order to earn their keep. Rank is not recognized among them at all; pride of place is alotted better, not nobler men. They rival one another in honor; they bear one another's burdens, so fulfilling Christ's injunction. The insolent word, the profitless deed, improvident laughter, even the least murmur or whisper does not go unrepaired when perceived properly. They swear off dice and gaming; they detest hunting, and take no pleasure in the absurd cruelty of falconry, as it is practiced. They renounce and abominate mimes and magicians and romanciers, bawdy songs and the spectacle of the joust as vanity and dangerous folly. They keep their hair short, having learned from the Apostle that it is shameful for a man to wear his hair like a woman. Never do they set and rarely do they wash their hair, preferring to go about dishevelled and unkempt, covered in dust and blackened by the sun and their armor.

Do St. Bernard's words describe the modern Templar? I imagine most no longer practice falconry, but somehow I doubt they walk around unkempt and stinking. And if they do, well, who is it then who should be offering apologies?

Posted by Ideofact at 12:36 AM | Comments (1)

December 05, 2004

Let Freedom Ring

Saturday's Washington Post had an oped by Nadia Diuk with this lovely passage:

...[J]ust one gesture, or the display of a symbol -- the red-and-white logo of Solidarity -- conveyed a whole set of aspirations, attitudes and emotions. Now the color orange is the symbol throughout the center of Kiev. Everyone understands what is at stake, and everyone stands united. The Czechs jingled keys, the Serbs showed a fist, the Georgians adopted the rose, and now the Ukrainians wear orange.

Ukrainians were not the first, nor will they be the last. The only uncertainty is which of the rotten totalitarian regimes will be the next to be toppled.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Unbearable Crappiness of Burger King

The lowlights of an otherwise remarkably fine weekend were two trips, lunchtimes Saturday and Sunday, with the six year old to Burger King. The attraction, of course, were the SpongeBob Squarepants promotional items that Burger King advertises on just about every cartoon and kids' show. So off we went, in search of SpongeBob watches and SpongeBob kid-meal trinkets, Saturday with a friend of his tagging along and Sunday with just the two of us. It turned out that neither Burger King we visited had any SpongeBob items; on both occasions we were informed of this in a rather surly manner, verging on rude. Note to employees: Yes, this isn't your fault, and I understand that being asked the same idiotic question two or three hundred times a day must be tedious, but maybe you could point out to your manager that customers would be less likely to ask about the availability of SpongeBob items if posters advertising them didn't hang all over the store, or if you added a simple "sold out" or "no longer available" sign over the display case that still showed the toys.

My son recalled that last summer, when my wife made a special trip to a Burger King for cheap plastic lucre, in this case Yugi-Oh toys, they were out of them (and this was at a Burger King in Delaware). His friend had his own share of bad Burger King experiences. By contrast, I can't ever remember McDonalds not having a toy, and I can even recall one McDonalds crew that gave my son two leftover Stretch Screamer Halloween promos with his happy meal after that offer expired -- he didn't remember that until I reminded him of it, but, since he still has both screamers (a mummy and a creature from the black lagoon), he was inclined to view McDonalds even more favorably.

I am by no means a marketing expert -- I don't have the instincts for it -- but I can't imagine that it makes good business sense for a chain to direct a high profile campaign at kids only to disappoint them when they walk through the doors. As much as I might have like to buy a SpongeBob watch, I can well understand that they might have sold out. But the movie's been in theaters for all of three weeks, and already, it seems, the two Burger Kings we visited are out of the kid toys. (I may be overgeneralizing here, but had I driven around all afternoon checking other Burger Kings to verify my suspicion that the promotion is, as a practical matter, over, that would have been just as obsessive as driving around on the off chance we'd find one that still offered the ubiquitously advertised promo items.) In any case, I think Burger King can count on having lost at least one customer for good over this.

(By the way, apologies to Kundera).

December 02, 2004

Center and circumference

I wonder what the theological implications of this are:

The search for life on Mars, now more than a century old, is still not finally resolved. But the odds that life existed there and may still exist are shortening, according to planetary experts, Dr Kargel said.

Nobody any longer expects Martian life forms to be anything like those on Earth. But there remains a possibility that bacteria or other microscopic organisms may survive in regions where there is still water. On Earth, almost every imaginable habitat, including deep underground, has specialised bacteria — called extremophiles — living and thriving.

Posted by Ideofact at 09:55 PM | Comments (2)

Alexander the Albanian least according to this. Well, it's not as if there's no one else claiming him as one of their own...

Posted by Ideofact at 01:24 PM | Comments (3)

December 01, 2004

Qutb, Sayyid 1)

Perhaps before I begin blogging Sayyid Qutb's The Islamic Concept and its Characteristics, I should attempt to answer a question of rather fundamental importance, one raised by frequent commenter Abu Noor al-Irlandee in replies to this previous post, to wit, who was Sayyid Qutb?

This is not an altogether idle question. To Abu Noor (it is enough that he speaks for himself, although I am sure others share his view), Qutb opposed the injustice and oppression of the corrupt and tyrannical Egyptian government, calling for a return to a pure form of Islamic society. I, of course, have taken a somewhat different view. I have referred to him as the brain of bin Laden (a phrase I borrowed more or less from Dinesh D'Souza), the ideological inspiration for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and so on. The members of the 9/11 Commission, in their report, bolster this argument; I'm not entirely in accord with their summation of his thought, but I shall let that pass:

Three basic themes emerge from Qutb's writings. First, he claimed that the world was beste with barbarism, licentiousness, and unbelief (a condition he called jahiliyya, the religious term for the period of ignorance prior to the revelations given tot he Prophet Mohammed). Qutb argued that humans can choose only between Islam and jahiliyya. Second, he warned that more people, including Muslims, were attracted to jahiliyya and its material comforts than to his view of Islam; jahiliyya could therefore triumph over Islam. Third, no middle ground exists in what Qutb conceived as a struggle between God and Satan. All Muslims--as he defined them--therefore must take up arms in this fight. Any Muslim who rejects his ideas is just one more nonbeliever worthy of destruction.

Bin Ladin shares Qutb's stark view, permitting him and his followers to rationalize even unprovoked mass murder as righteous defense of an embattled faith.

Yet Muqtedar Khan, a self-described liberal Muslim and the sort of fellow who's invited to talk at the prestigious Brookings Institution, compares Qutb to John Locke, finding points of affinity between their thought:

Both Locke and Qutb imagined freedom in the same absolutist terms. The human individual was, by virtue of his divine creation, subordinate to God—and God alone—and therefore was a free agent.

This is a less than apt comparison. For Locke, the individual was sovereign, and only with the consent of the citizens could a government be legitimate. Qutb wants a theocracy, one that requires adherence to a single interpretation of Islam (his own) by all believers. Compare that attitude with, say, John Locke's attitude toward tolerance; he is rather adamant about the importance of individual choice in these matters ("everyone is orthodox to himself").

In the aforementioned comments of Abu Noor, he quotes an essay by Adil Salahi:

Yet today, the war against Islam waged by the Zionist and the Neo-Imperialists tries to describe Sayyid Qutb as the philosopher of Islamic terror. This is by no means surprising. Their predecessors of old described the Prophet as a sorcerer and a madman. These were the most sohisticated labels they could attach to him at the time. In our modern era, it is terrorism that the hostile camp tried to attach to Islam and its advocates. Futile will their efforts be, for, by the nature of things and by God's design, the truth will triumph.

The entire essay is offered to further Abu Noor's view (I hope I'm summarizing it accurately) that Qutb is a writer whose ideas appeal to a wide range of Islamists (that is, Muslims who would like to reform their governments according to the religious principles of Islam), and that the most extreme of these (including bin Laden and his followers, presumably) stand in relation to Qutb's thought in the same way that, say, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, stood to Thomas Jefferson (McVeigh quoted a line of Jefferson's).

Considering how poorly the Locke comparison fares, I'm not sure Jefferson is the best of examples to invoke. In my university days, I had more than my fair share of professors -- cultured and civilized men and women -- who were convinced of the absolute correctness and morality of Karl Marx. I don't think a single one of these people were capable of firing a gun, let alone firing a gun into the back of the head of a naked 12 year old girl deemed an enemy of the people, yet they had no problem at all espousing the philosophy of the man -- and supporting the political of movements of his followers -- who made such things a precondition of his revolutionary success. To be sure, there is no passage in Marx in which he advocates shooting naked 12 year girls in the back of the head (the image is from a particularly disturbing, nearly unwatchable and thus must-be-watched film, The Chekist, about the tactics of the Soviet secret police in the early days of the Bolshevik Putsch), but there's an awful lot of talk about revolution, smashing the bourgeoisie, attacks on the ruling classes, the historical invevitibility and scientific necessity of their revolution, and so on. Though Marx's writings didn't call for shooting little girls, the kind of society he imagined all but demanded it; it wasn't too many decades after his death (three and a half, to be precise) before orthodox Marxists were coolly estimating that something like 10 percent of the population would have to be slaughtered to effectively smash the bourgeoisie -- to complete the revolution Marx envisaged.

I'd argue, from my limited readings of translations of Qutb's works, that Marx is far more analogous to Qutb than Jefferson, but that the explication of that will come in more detail in the forthcoming 4 Qutb series.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:33 PM | Comments (1)

Demons reviewed

I Don't Know But reviews Norman Cohn's book, Europe's Inner Demons, which I've mentioned once or twice here. James quotes some of the best bits, and notes that Cohn suffers from a bit of a Chadwick Hansen deficit in one area: Though we can rest assured that witches do not and did not fly on brooms or turn people into newts -- that there were no witches with supernatural power -- there certainly were people who thought of themselves as witches.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:29 AM | Comments (0)