January 31, 2005

Underground railroad

A number of bloggers linked to this story from the Sunday Times suggesting that the criminal government of North Korea is on the verge of collapse (I saw it first on Little Green Footballs). It's a fascinating story, though while I'm sure the regime in North Korea is utterly a failing its people, I'm not sure I'm as optimistic about the nearness of its collapse as the author of the article. Tyrants and tyrannies have proven remarkably durable.

I found this to be the most interesting passage:

Word has spread like wildfire of the Christian underground that helps fugitives to reach South Korea. People who lived in silent fear now dare to speak about escape. The regime has almost given up trying to stop them going, although it can savagely punish those caught and sent back.

“Everybody knows there is a way out,” said a woman, who for obvious reasons cannot be identified but who spoke in front of several witnesses.

“They know there is a Christian network to put them in contact with the underground, to break into embassies in Beijing or to get into Vietnam. They know, but you have to pay a lot of money to middlemen who have the Christian contacts.”

Her knowledge was remarkable. North Korean newspapers are stifled by state control. Televisions receive only one channel which is devoted to the Dear Leader’s deeds. Radios are fixed to a single frequency. For most citizens the internet is just a word.

Yet North Koreans confirmed that they knew that escapers to China should look for buildings displaying a Christian cross and should ask among Korean speakers for people who knew the word of Jesus.

“The information blockade is like a dam and when it bursts there will be a great wave,” said Shin, the crusading pastor.

I was reminded of the Abolitionists who ran the underground railroad -- indeed, the plight of the average North Korean is probably as bad as that of an American slave, if not worse. It is amazing how the names and countries and religions and cultures change, but the one enduring constant is the desire for freedom....

Posted by Ideofact at 12:25 AM | Comments (1)

January 30, 2005

A new birth of freedom

What else can one say when one sees the pictures of Iraqi women going to the polls, babes in arms, defying the fascists? I can't think of anything more inspiring than that.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

January 28, 2005

Never forget

The following passage is from one of the blackest pieces of writing I have ever read. I find it sickening in a way I find few other things sickening, I hate it. I also recommend reading it, or just this sliver of it:

The killing of these Russian prisoners-of-war did not cause me much concern at the time. The order had been given, and I had to carry it out. I must even admit that this gassing set my mind at rest, for the mass extermination of the Jews was to start soon and at that time neither Eichmann nor I was certain how these mass killings were to be carried out. It would be by gas, but we did not know which gas or how it was to be used. Now we had the gas, and we had established the procedure. I always shuddered at the thought of carrying out exterminations by shooting, when I thought of the vast numbers concerned, and of the women and children. The shooting of hostages, and the group executions ordered by the Reichsfuehrer SS or by the Reich Security Head Office had been enough for me. I was therefore relieved to think that we were to be spared all these blood-baths, and that the victims too would be spared suffering until their last moment came. It was precisely this which had caused me the greatest concern when I had heard Eichmann's description of Jews being mowed down by the Special Squads [Einsatzkommandos] armed with machine-guns and machine-pistols. Many gruesome scenes are said to have taken place, people running away after being shot, the finishing off of the wounded and particularly of the women and children. Many members of the Einsatzkommandos, unable to endure wading through blood any longer, had committed suicide. Some had even gone mad. Most of the members of these Kommandos had to rely on alcohol when carrying out their horrible work....

In the spring of 1942 the first transports of Jews, all earmarked for extermination, arrived from Upper Silesia.

They were taken from the detraining platform to the 'Cottage' -- to Bunker I -- across the meadows where later Building Site II was located. The transport was conducted by Aumeier and Palitzsch and some of the block leaders. They talked with the Jews about general topics, enquiring concerning their qualifications and trades, with a view to misleading them. On arrival at the 'Cottage', they were told to undress. At first they went calmly into the rooms where they were supposed to be disinfected. But some of them showed signs of alarm, and spoke of death by suffocation and annihilation. A sort of panic set in at once. Immediately all the Jews still outside were pushed into the chambers, and the doors were screwed shut. With subsequent transports the difficult individuals were picked out early on and most carefully supervised. At the first signs of unrest, those responsible were unobtrusively led behind the building and killed with a small-calibre gun, that was inaudible to the others....

The passages come from Commandant of Auschwitz, the autobiography of Rudolf Hoess. In the following pages, Hoess describes the horrors he presided over; of women begging for their children's lives, or trying to hide their babies among the clothing prisoners shed before going to the chambers, of the wailing and shrieking and pleading, of the desperate stratagems those he was putting to death employed to try to win a few days' reprieve, and he felt great sympathy for the victims of all this -- he and his fellow officers and guards who would be inhuman, after all, were they not affected by these scenes.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:11 AM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2005

Less functionality

No more trackbacks, I'm afraid, and I'm slowly but surely turning off the ping function on older posts. I got trackback spam, and it's harder to get rid of than comment spam.

I'm willing to put up with the comment spam for the time being (I only leave comments open for a month or so, making it easier to deal with spammers), but at some point, I'll probably get fed up with that too.

Posted by Ideofact at 06:17 PM | Comments (1)

The Sky's Gone Out!

One of my more fundamental beliefs is that the future is largely unknowable. Time itself may well be an illusion -- our physicists certainly haven't figured out what it is yet (some persuasively deny it exists). The notion that anyone could deduce from a mechanism whose present actions we do not understand and cannot predict three months from now (quick: What will the weather in Washington, D.C., be when the Nationals have their home opener this April? I know the precise game time, which is published, but I do not think anyone could tell me the temperature when the first pitch is thrown out, or even if the first pitch will be thrown on -- the game's being played is contingent on the weather).

So what am I to make of Cassandras like this:

Global warming might be twice as catastrophic as previously thought, flooding settlements on the British coast and turning the interior into an unrecognisable tropical landscape, the world's biggest study of climate change shows.

Researchers from some of Britain's leading universities used computer modelling to predict that under the "worst-case" scenario, London would be under water and winters banished to history as average temperatures in the UK soar up to 20C higher than at present.

Globally, average temperatures could reach 11C greater than today, double the rise predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international body set up to investigate global warming. Such high temperatures would melt most of the polar icecaps and mountain glaciers, raising sea levels by more than 20ft. A report this week in The Independent predicted a 2C temperature rise would lead to irreversible changes in the climate.

Well, yes, if everything goes wrong, everything goes really wrong. But is this something about which we can do something (other than pray), or are we hurtling along on an indifferent chunk of rock that geologically is about to have yet another change of life:

SUFFOCATING global warming is to blame for the worst mass-extinction on Earth, according to international researchers tracking the cause of the "Great Dying" 250 million years ago.

Until now, circumstantial evidence suggested that an asteroid wiped out more than 90 per cent of all marine life and almost 75 per cent of all land plants and animals, like that which took out the dinosaurs 65
million years ago.

But new geochemical and fossil data reported today in the journal Science indicates that continuous volcanic eruptions in Siberia set off
runaway global warming with disastrous consequences. According to the new view, long-term planet-wide warming dramatically reduced oxygen and nutrients in the oceans and on land.

"The severe global warming had a devastating effect," said Kliti Grice, an organic geochemist who led a team of researchers from Curtin University of Technology in Perth. "Life suffocated or starved."

When I was a kid, I used to imagine that if I didn't watch the Phillies play, they would lose. It was comforting to think that I somehow was involved in their destiny, that my devotion to the team had some impact on their success (and perhaps, like the doomsday computer modellers, my model had validity: If I stayed home to watch the game on TV and didn't go to the store and bother the clerk who had a fight with his girl friend that upset her father who was a groundskeeper at the Vet who didn't make the mound the way Steve Carlton liked it...). So if there is to be a global catastrophe of global warning, if the sky is to go out, isn't it comforting to think that your fellow man's sin has brought us to the brink, and your own virtue may yet redeem us?

Me, I'm more worried that I might have been rude to the clerk who sold me my spanking new Washington Nationals hat, and he got into a fight with his girlfriend....

Posted by Ideofact at 12:26 AM | Comments (5)

January 26, 2005

Reuchlin remembered

He was in prison at the time, and with a less than stellar library (one imagines--this was Little Tito's Yugoslavia), so perhaps one can forgive Alija Izetbegovic for his oversight in this passage from his notebooks:

Anti-Semitism in Germany is very old. Even at the beginning of the sixteenth century, renowned German humanist Reuchlin (1485-1522) and Urlich Kohn Guter (1488-1523) wrote piercing discussions and pamphlets agaisnt the Jews and advocated an imperial decree for the confiscation and destruction of all Jewish books. ...

Reuchlin, about whose complicated history I wrote here, actually opposed the burning of Jewish books, and, in his capacity as a lawyer, argued the case for the Jews; I don't know anything about Ulrich Kohn Guter, but given the mistake about Reuchlin I suggest we give him the benefit of the doubt until I have some time to check him out, just as we shouldn't be too hard on Izetbegovic for getting it wrong...

Incidentally, I think past Izetbegovic posts can be found here.

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

January 25, 2005

Incompletely Borges

I really liked this bit, published in the January 31, 2005, print edition of National Review, from a review of Borges: A Life, the new biography by Edwin Williamson, which I've yet to purchase. In fact, I wasn't at all interested in buying it; I cannot tell whether Algis Valiunas' review has changed my mind. Valiunas tells us:

At the heart of Williamson's account is a line from the philosopher F.H. Bradley that Borges chose as the epigraph to a 1928 book of essays: "For love unsatisfied the world is a mystery, a mystery which satisfied love appears to understand." Erotic distress translated into metaphysical consternation, and both found their way into Borges's writing. Druing most of his career Borges studiously avoided writing of love, at least directly; but, Williamson writes, this subject "haunted the work of his middle years and was encrypted in signs, symbols, and motifs virtually everywhere in his texts." Although Williamson's endless worrying at this theme turns into academic overkill, he clearly understands something essential about Borges's fiction.

This is an interesting observation; I'm not sure I'd care to read pages and pages on this theme, which sometimes is fairly obvious. In the Zahir (to cite one example) we begin with Borges' obsession over a woman, and end with his obsession over a coin. (The story also contains this memorable line: "I am no longer the 'I' of that episode; but it is still possible for me to remember what happened, perhaps even to tell it. I am still, however incompletely, Borges.")

Posted by Ideofact at 11:02 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2005

Mysteries of Tut

Nothing fires the public's imagination like the discovery of gold treasure or a good mystery. Tut provides both.


Interesting account in the Independent of some recent research on King Tut; I found this bit on the old research fascinating as well:

The mummy of Tutankhamun was anatomically examined on 11 November 1925. The autopsy by Douglas Derry, the Professor of Anatomy at the Egyptian University, created a macabre scene.

The mummy was intact, although not in as good a condition as was hoped. Few royal mummies survive today which have not at some time or other been rifled by robbers, who have torn the wrappings and left the corpses damaged and exposed to the atmosphere.

The first problems soon became apparent as the magnificent gold death mask which covered Tutankhamun's head, shoulders and part of his chest was stuck to the bottom of the coffin in which they had rested for so long. This was due to unguents which had been poured over the mummy after it had been placed in the coffin, which with the passing of time had dried to a stony hardness.

The linen bandages were in a fragile condition and crumbled at the slightest touch. It proved impossible to unwrap the mummy layer by layer as had been hoped. They had to cut the bandages.

Enclosed in the many layers of wrappings were a vast number of personal and mystical ornaments. The King lay with his arms across his body, each covered from the elbow to the wrist with bracelets of gold, silver and semi-precious stones. It was not until the greater part of the bandages had been removed, that Tutankhamun's remains could be lifted from the coffin.

The bandages that covered the head of the King seemed to be in a better state of preservation. The removal of the final bandage from the King's face was a delicate operation, as the danger of damaging the King's features was uppermost in Dr Derry's mind.

The face of the young pharaoh, whose reign had ended over 3,000 years earlier, was then revealed. A serene, refined and cultured face, it had well formed features and lips clearly marked. His skin was brittle and cracked. His eyes were partly open and had in no way been interfered with, except to be covered with fabric impregnated with resin.

Dr Derry concluded that Tutankhamun would have been between 18 and 20 when he died. But there was no visible clue as to whether or not he had met his death naturally.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:44 PM | Comments (1)


As many have noted, a fascist (there's really no need to tack on "Islamo-" anymore) purporting to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has threatened Iraqi voters, declaring them "infidels" if they prefer to elect their own leaders rather than be content to stare up at the boots stomping on their faces:

"We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it," a speaker identified as Zarqawi said in an audio tape on the Internet.

"Those who vote ... are infidels," he said. "You have to be careful of the enemy's plots that involve applying democracy in your country and confront these plots, because they only want to do so to ... give the (Shi'ite) rejectionists the rule of Iraq."

The Zarqawifascist pronouncement, whether ersatz or genuine, reminded me of something I read some time ago. Unlike Zarqawi, the author of these lines was not directing acts of terror aimed at his fellow man, rather, he was imprisoned for something he wrote. While in prison, he wrote more, including this observation:

Dictatorship is immoral even when it prohibits sin, democracy is moral even when it allows it. Morality is inseparable from freedom. Only free conduct is moral conduct. By negating freedom, and thus the possibility of choice, a dictatorship contains in its premises the negation of morality. To that extent, regardless of all historical apparitions, dicatorship and religion are mutually exclusive. For, just as in the body-spirit dilemma, religion always favors the spirit, so in the choice of between wanting and behaving, intent and action, it will always favor wanting and intent, regarldless of the result, that is, the consequence. In religion, an action is not valued without the intention, without "intent," that is, without an opportunity or freedom to act or not act. Just as coercive starvation is not a fast, so the coerced good is not good and is from the religious standpoint valueless. That is why the freedom of choice, that is, of action or lack of it, of abiding or transgressing, is the prerequisite at the basis of all prerequisites of all religions and all morality. And that is why the elimination of this choice, either by physical force in dictatorship or obedience training in utopia, signifies their negation. From this the idea follows that every truly human society must be a community of free individuals. It must limit the number of its laws and interventions (degree of external coercion) to that necessary extent in which the freedom of choice between good and evil is maintained, so that people would do good, not because they must, but because they want to.

The writer of these words is the late Alija Izetbegovic, a devout Muslim who recognized that tyranny, not democracy, is incompatible with Islam.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:22 PM | Comments (16)

January 20, 2005

5 Qutb V.

Note: Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) was an Egyptian author, literary critic, bureaucrat, and one time American student who went on to become the most prominent of the radical fundamentalist thinkers of the post-Colonial period; his political thinking has become the platform of some of the more radical terrorist groups; numerous articles note that both Osama bin Laden and Ayam al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number one and two, have been influenced by Qutb. In a number of prior posts, ideofact has explored the writings of Qutb.

Now, ideofact continues its exploration of the Sayyid Qutb essay, Our Struggle with the Jews, this time examining some of the history behind one of Qutb's anti-Semitic claims.

I have before me my copy of the first volume of Marshall G. S. Hodgson's The Venture of Islam, a rather dog-eared copy (a much earlier edition, I'm afraid, than the one linked -- like its owner, age has taken its toll on the book, although only one of us has a badly cracked spine). I don't pay much attention to intellectual fashions; Hodgson may well have a poor reputation as a historian. For our purposes what counts are his skills as an intelligent reader and a historiographer.

Hodgson recounts the manner in which a tenth century histoiran, Ibn-Jarir al-Tabari, recounts the events surrounding the assassination of 'Uthman. You can actually read bits of it using Amason.com's "search inside this book" feature). I don't want to go all through Hodgson's summary; suffice it to say that al-Tabari gives us conflicting accounts: one, based on various sources of varying credibility. explains the shortcomings of 'Uthman's reign, the various issues that divided him and his opponents, the reasons the aggrieved party that ultimately conspired against and assassinated him opposed the caliph -- and suggests, as Hodgson puts it, this moral to the story:

The law must be worked out so that everyone will know what it is: what will make up for the caliphs will be independently developed Shari'ah, upheld by a responsible Muslim population.

In the second version, which comes from a chronologist whose credibility was fairly low, Sayf ibn Umar, there was no rift among the faithful. Rather, it was a Jewish convert to Islam who held heretical ideas that led the conspiracy. It was not a question of the community of believers having to work out the law and make up for the caliphs; the enemy was an outsider.

So in the only instance I've come across in which Qutb mentions the actual assassination of 'Uthman, whom does he blame? Who is at fault? What are Muslims to learn from this incident?

The one who incited the peoples, brought together the small groups, and set loose the sectarian movements in the assassination of Uthman--may Allah be pleased with him--and all the catastrophes that followed this assassination...was a Jew.

Rather than struggle with the implications of 'Uthman's killing, Qutb prefers to blame the Jew.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:32 AM | Comments (13)

January 19, 2005

Important advice

The Cranky Professor has had some bad luck, and points to some useful advice. I'm hoping that he recovers his content, and soon -- whether he writes about Macs, shoes, the educational system or current events, his insights (and proclivities) are always worth the visit.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)


The findings support the theory that the ancients were just as prone to mischief and mistakes as we are today.

From Discovery News

I had no idea that such a commonplace observation required a theory...

Via the always excellent Cronaca.

Posted by Ideofact at 03:20 PM | Comments (0)

Lincoln, Jefferson, stuff and nonsene

This demolition of The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C.A. Tripp, which argues that Lincoln was bisexual or even predominantly homosexual, reminded me of something I wanted to write about ages ago but never got around to. In adducing reasons why some historians have been slow to attack Tripp's work, David Greenberg suggests that other, more successful revisions might be playing a role:

Even more embarrassing to some scholars was the emergence of a consensus that Jefferson probably did father one or more children with Hemings. This claim circulated way back in Jefferson's day, and some of Hemings' descendants learned as a matter of course that Jefferson was an ancestor. But Jefferson scholarship for years was controlled largely by a Southern, white, male aristocracy—led by such men as Dumas Malone and Virginius Dabney—for whom the very thought of interracial sex was anathema. These scholars dismissed the idea, sometimes sneeringly, as slander. In 1974, however, Fawn Brodie's psychohistory Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History revived the argument, though it met with a chilly reception. Then, in 1997, Annette Gordon-Reed published Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, which demolished the arguments of the Jefferson boosters and began to shift scholarly opinion. The next year the journal Nature ran an article by scientists who had conducted DNA tests that suggested strongly that Jefferson was the father of Madison Hemings' male offspring—leading important Jefferson authorities such as Joseph Ellis to change their minds. Today, it's probably safe to say, most informed historians believe that Jefferson did father children with Hemings.

The thing that always fascinates me about the charges against Jefferson is that the only contemporaneous claim that Jefferson had fathered numerous children by Sally Hemings is demonstrably false.

That charge was made by James Callender, who is the sort of figure for whom I actually have a certain amount of, well, if not respect then at least an appreciation of his utility -- he was a step or six beneath a muckraker, clearly on the take and yet at the same time unable to turn a profit from the powers that be--which I think of as sort of a virtue (in the same way God protects children, fools and the United States of America, as the saying goes). Callender's only consistency was contrarian; he was a clearly biased journalist whose biases ran firmly against whichever party was in power. He was also canny enough to recognize that sleaze sold in any season. A nasty sort of man (a drunk and a misanthrope according to one of his contemporaries), but the sort who serves a useful function in any democracy -- reminding us pointedly that those in elected office have to suffer the slings and arrows of the nastiest of us. Callender was no hero, of course, but here was a guy who slammed Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson and Madison -- no cherry trees and "I cannot tell a lie" hagiography for him. He was fortunate to live in a time when readers of the popular press were made of sturdy enough stuff to recognize that reporters and pamphleteers had agendas and biases; the readers were able to take all this in and still re-elect Jefferson in 1804 (Callender had boasted that his expose would end Jefferson's political career).

In 1802, during Jefferson's first term, Callender wrote a series of articles in the Richmond Recorder, excerpts of which can be read in the Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, which concluded, on the basis of various historical information and the famed DNA testing, that Jefferson had fathered all of Sally Hemings' children. (The link is to the report home page; you have to click on the PDF to get the following excperts). Here is the main claim Callender made:

It is well known that the man, whom it delighteth the people to honor, keeps, and for many years past has kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves. Her name is SALLY. The name of her eldest son is TOM. His features are said to bear a striking although sable resemblance to those of the president himself. The boy is ten tor twelve years of age.

Additionally, in a later story, Callender mentions "five healthy mahogany-featured children frisking about the floor," presumably the offspring of Jefferson and Hemings.

According to the same report, (the summary is online here), in 1802, Hemings would have had two living children, a son Beverly, born in 1798, and a daughter Harriet, born in 1801. There is no son Thomas (although see here for more on the Thomas Woodson controversy. In a nutshell, the Woodson family has a longstanding oral tradition that their ancestor Thomas Woodson was the son Callender referred to -- a child of Hemings and Jefferson. DNA testing on Woodson's descendants did not match that of Jefferson's male relatives; if you accept the DNA evidence, then Jefferson was not Woodson's father. On the basis of this, the Research Committee came to a provisional conclusion that Hemings ws not Woodson's mother, which seems to me to be a fairly bizarre conclusion to reach. In the committee's own words:

The 1998 DNA study indicates that Thomas C. Woodson was not Thomas Jefferson’s son. Madison Hemings’s statement and the absence of any information linking Woodson to Monticello make it unlikely that he was the son of Sally Hemings. Based on all the information available to us at this time, the committee cannot establish that Thomas C. Woodson was the child of Sally Hemings—despite a compelling oral tradition that almost certainly dates to Woodson’s lifetime.

So, returning to Greenberg's claim, were the Jefferson scholars who did not have the benefit of DNA testing (which, again, only shows that a Jefferson -- not necessarily Thomas -- was the father of Hemings' children) right to discount the claims of Callender, whose stories had quite a bit of fiction in them (five children rather than two, plus the 12 year old "Tom" who was not recorded as Hemings' child and, it turned out, not related to Jefferson)? With the Jefferson case, at least we have a contemporaneous accusation based on the work of a journalist whose work and track record we can evaluate (Callender was right about Hamilton's sex scandal, for example). What are we to make of a work on Lincoln based not on contemporaneous evidence, but rather on a tendentious re-interpretation of documents that none of Lincoln's contemporaries regarded as anything out to the ordinary? And finally--and this goes for both Jefferson and Lincoln--how important is the sex life (real or imagined) of either man?

Posted by Ideofact at 12:29 AM | Comments (2)

January 18, 2005

5 Qutb IV.

Note: Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) was an Egyptian author, literary critic, bureaucrat, and one time American student who went on to become the most prominent of the radical fundamentalist thinkers of the post-Colonial period; his political thinking has become the platform of some of the more radical terrorist groups; numerous articles note that both Osama bin Laden and Ayam al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number one and two, have been influenced by Qutb. In a number of prior posts, ideofact has explored the writings of Qutb.

Now, ideofact continues its exploration of the Sayyid Qutb essay, Our Struggle with the Jews, this time in the light of Qutb's other works.

In the other works of his I have read, Qutb exhibits clear anti-Semitism, yet it is of a different magnitude than the sort he unleashed in Our Struggle with the Jews. In Social Justice in Islam, for example, Qutb writes,

Similarly, we find the medicine markets monopolized by Jews and others; so the sick undergo suffering or are left to die, while the monopolists make their scandalous profits and thereby amass their unlawful wealth.

Later, he writes,

There are those who hold that it is the financial influence of the Jews in the United States and elsewhere that has governed the policy of the West. There are those who say it is English ambition and Anglo-Saxon guile that are responsible for the present position. And there are those who believe that it is the antipathy between the Eastern and Western blocs that is responsible. All these opinions overlook one vital element in the question, which must be added to all other elements, the Crusader spirit that runs in the blood of all Occidentals....

We do not forget the role of international Zionism in plotting against Islam and in the pooling against it of the forces of the Crusader imperialists and the communist materialists alike. This is nothing other than a continuation of the role played by the Jews since the migration of the Prophet to Medina and the rise of the Islamic state.

Pretty vile stuff; the last paragraph directly foreshadows Our Struggle with the Jews. Clearly, Qutb was a horrible little hater, and beyond that one need not say much more. What I found interesting, however, was the contrast in Qutb's treatment of the death of 'Uthman ibn Affan, the third of the rightly guided caliphs. 'Uthman was a particular favorite of Qutb, who seems to have respected him for his piety and personal virtues but not for his rule as Caliph. It is clear that Qutb prefers 'Uthman's political philosophy to the Shari'ah; in Social Justice in Islam, Qutb approvingly quotes this line: "As 'Uthman ibn Affan said: 'Allah restrains man more by means of the ruler than by means of the Qur'an.'"

In The Islamic Concept and Its Character, which I'll return to blogging on soon, Qutb describes the aftermath of the assassination of 'Uthman this way:

[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.

Qutb clearly isn't writing about the murder itself, but its aftermath; in Social Justice in Islam, he writes in more detail of the unhappy reign of 'Uthman, who put his fellow Umayyads in positions of power, angered the faithful by bending to his own johnny-come-lately corrupt advisors, etc. etc. Qutb thinks that 'Uthman was just too old when he came to power, and writes,

I am certain that, if the life of 'Umar had lasted several years longer, or if 'Ali had been the third Caliph, or even if 'Uthman had become Caliph when he was twenty years younger, then the course of Islamic history would have been very considerably changed.

Right, and I'm fairly certain that if Dewey had in fact beaten Truman, or if my father had never met my mother...

But what of the assassination of 'Uthman? Qutb writes:

The truth is that any suspicion that the Islamic system does not afford safeguards against its own overthrow is due to ignorance of what is practically feasible in any system. It betratys also an ignorance of the true facts of Islamic history; we have the evidence of the great rebellion against 'Uthman; we have the rebellion of the Hejaz against the Yazid; we have the evidence of the Qarmatian rebellion, and of many others, all of which were directed against exploitation, arbritrary power, and class distinctions. The spirit of Islam has continually struggled against all such things, in spite of the grievous injuries that it has suffered throughout thirteen hundred years.

Perhaps I'm misreading this, but it appears that Qutb has chosen the side of 'Uthman's killers, or at least is arguing that, even if they were wrong to kill 'Uthman, they did so to fight against "exploitation, arbitrary power, and class distinctions," all things with which Qutb agrees.

Here is how Qutb writes of the death of 'Uthman in Our Struggle with the Jews:

The one who incited the peoples, brought together the small groups, and set loose the sectarian movements in the assassination of Uthman--may Allah be pleased with him--and all the catastrophes that followed this assassination...was a Jew.

So a Jew let loose the catastrophe described in The Islamic Concept and welcomed in Social Justice in Islam.

So which is it? Was the death of 'Uthman--tragic as it was--ultimately an attempt to achieve social justice, or a catastrophe that acted as prism, splintering the pure light of Islam into a spectrum of mutually exclusive interpretations? Was it the work of a Jew?

In Social Justice in Islam, Qutb writes,

...the revolt against 'Uthman came to a head; it contained elements both of right and of wrong, of good and of evil. Yet to one who views matters through the eyes of Islam and who seeks to interpret events by the spirit of that faith it must be apparent that the revolt was more akin to the spirt and purposes of Islam than was the position of 'Uthman...

I leave it to the (all too patient) reader, for now, to ponder what all this means, but I'll offer further thoughts soon...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:26 AM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2005

Hair today...

...gone tomorrow? John-Paul Pagano of Fightin' with Grapes reads the barber shop floor clippings for signs of Kim Jong Il's demise.

I'm a little disturbed that John-Paul called North Korea a "Daffy Duck Dystopia" -- the story seems to cry out for a Bugs Bunny reference...

How do?? Welcome to my shop, let me cut your mop, let me shave your crop
Daintily, daintily
Hey you!!
Don't look so perplexed, why must you be vexed, can't you see you're next
Yes you're next, you're so next
How about a nice close shave
Teach your whiskers to behave
Lots of lather lots of soap
Please hold still don't be a dope
Now we're ready for the scraping
There's no use to try escaping
Yell & scream & rant & rave
It's no use you need a shave
Ooh ouch ouch oh ouch oh oh ouch
There, you're nice and clean
Although your face looks like it might have gone through a machine

Posted by Ideofact at 03:54 PM | Comments (0)

How odd II

I watched the series premiere of the revived Battlestar Galactica, and I can't say I'm optimistic about the show. For a two hour, blockbluster series premiere, they stitched together what were really two separate episodes (really -- split them in half, and you don't lose anything), and the second one was just ridiculous (sorry, but after nearly all of humanity has been wiped out and I think my girlfriend destroyed up my ship's water supply, I'm at least suggesting that she get some counseling, and maybe even reporting it...

Don't get me wrong, the acting is fine (and Edward James Olmos is superb), the visual effects are amazing -- first rate really -- but without stories, it's all in vain. So the blockbuster "fight has just begun" premiere has them having to make a tough decision in the first hour, and I couldn't figure out what the hell the second hour was about. It simply didn't make any sense at all.

Not an auspicious beginning.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:25 AM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2005


I feel a little guilty for not mentioning the Brass Crescent contest that Aziz, among others, has been promoting. I imagine these things require a lot of work to set up, and a lot of work to publicize -- even if you're not interested in contests, it's well worth checking out because they've chosen some very fine blogs and bloggers and posts. I followed some of the links, and there's a tremendous amount of erudite and intelligent commentary, of which we could always use more. Even if you, like me, find it too difficult to choose favorites, it's worth taking a look.

I have to admit I'm tremendously flattered and also a little embarrassed to be nominated in a couple of categories. As I think I've written at least once or twice, the value Islam places on the soul of each human being, the equality it demands -- the most humble peasant can be the equal of the Caliph in Allah's eyes -- will be what turns the Middle East from despotism to democracy. But I should point out that while I personally have tremendous respect for Islam (especially, of late, Shi'ism, although that would take a too long post to explain), I don't think ideofact "seeks a genuine dialog with Muslims," or with anyone else, for that matter. Don't be insulted -- I certainly don't want to lose any of the two or three regular readers I have -- it's that I don't think I've ever made much of an effort to "seek" readers or dialogs of any kind. But, for what it's worth, I try to answer comments and the few emails I get.

In any case (and this seems a far more relevant point to me), while we should all be grateful to the organizers for devoting time and effort to pulling together so many interesting blogs and posts in one spot, it seems to me that blogging (or writing in general) isn't, after all, a competition. (I wish that observation was original, but it comes from a Borges review of Virginia Woolf.) So by all means, visit the contest, check out the links, and if you're so inclined, cast your votes.

Posted by Ideofact at 01:14 AM | Comments (1)

January 13, 2005

Relocation remembered

North Sea Diaries -- a wonderfully engaging blog devoted to events in Europe, points to a disturbing story from Le Monde (he says, the link just goes to Le Figaro's page) about the persecution of the last few thousand Orthodox Christians living in Turkey:

The most recent incident was on 6 January, the Orthodox Christmas. It is celebrated every year on the waters of the Golden Horn, in a tradition dating back to the Byzantine era. The ceremony was disturbed this year by 60 protestors. “You are in Turkey! Like it or leave!", they shouted, waving flags bearing the acronym of the extreme nationalist party MHP.

North Sea Diaries cites, presumably from the orignal article, a figure of a half million people as the population of Orthodox Christians living in Turkey at the end of the 19th century, compared with some 3,000 now. That probably doesn't seem so dramatic if one recalls that part of the post World War One/post-Greco-Turkish War Treaty of Lausanne (there's a good summary of it here, but scroll way way down) called for a massive population trade. Ethnic Turks (all Muslim, I believe) living in Greece (many of whom spoke Greek as a first language) were relocated to Turkey, and ethnic Greek Christians living in Turkey (many of whom spoke Turkish) were moved to Greece. This episode largely accounts for the drastic decline of the number of Orthodox Christians in Turkey since the end of the 19th century.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:43 PM | Comments (3)

PETA puzzle

I remembered something I forgot last week -- to link to this post from Meryl Yourish. It's the last bit that interested me -- particularly the email from someone identifying herself as a "peta activist." When I read the email, it seemed unsettling -- the ease with which she compared the murder of a wife and mother to be with -- what exactly?

Obnoxious and morally bankrupt as some of PETA's metaphors are (the one that rightly outraged Meryl is a truly hideous example), there's something else about their mission that bothers me, something less to do with their obnoxiousness than with their stated goals, a contradiction which perhaps they have an answer for, but which I certainly don't.

PETA's faq is fairly clear in insisting that,

People who support animal rights believe that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other purpose and that animals deserve consideration of their best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or endangered and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all ...

According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, in 2002, there were something like 95 million head of cattle, 60 million hogs, 334 million egg laying chickens in the United States. (You can look all this up here.) These animals exist largely because they have economic utility; absent that economic utility, what purpose would they serve? Would anyone bother to feed 334 million hens out of the goodness of their hearts? Or is it more likely that, absent the economic value these animals have, they'd simply cease to exist in anywhere near the numbers they do now? Instead of 60 million hogs, we'd have 16,000 or so. Now, perhaps it is in an individual animal's interest not to be used for milk or meat, but surely it is not in an animal's interest to not be born in the first place?

This is not to say that I'm not all for the humane treatment of farm animals, for government regulations to that effect, and so on. But I still can't see how PETA can determine that it's in the interest of, say, 60 million hogs to become valueless and pass out of existence, leaving behind them a few thousand or hundred offspring.

I imagine, incidentally, that there's nothing particularly orginal about raising this objection to PETA, and I'm fairly certain they must have a snappy answer to it.

Posted by Ideofact at 09:54 PM | Comments (4)


Well, I spoke too soon -- the second half of the Battlestar Galactica miniseries somehow managed to overcome its promising first installment and recaptured almost everything I didn't like about the first series. I watched the whole thing, which reminded me of why I don't watch too much television anymore.

Because I wasted most of the night in front of the idiot box, I didn't have much time to spend with the item that came in today's post, Islam: The Misunderstood Religion by Mohammed Qutb, the Islamist nutball who taught Osama bin Laden. Flipping through it, we find that capitalism demands as a precondition of its success monopoly (never mind that Adam Smith insisted exactly the opposite); that it's simply an accident (presumably of schedulers) that someone decided to hold the industrial revolution in Europe before holding it in the Dar al Islam; that people who talk about freedom of conscience merely mean the freedom to promote atheism and deny Islam...

...and that's just opening it up to passages at random. I may or may not have a complete report on it soon, but first I have to finish 5 Qutb, then 4 Qutb. Although to be honest, of late, I've been far more interested in Sikhs, about whom I realized the other day that I don't know anything, and I also have a pile of books ranging from a collection of Lovecraft short stories to essays on anti-Semitism to a George Steiner book to a history of bacteria to a study of footnotes (I'm not kidding about the last one) that all seem more engaging than slogging through more of the unfailingly shallow ideas of the brothers Qutb.

Speaking of shallow ideas, I found the review of the Space 1999 mega bucket DVD set (yours for a cool $180 clams) pretty funny:

The tone of the show is one of scientific dispassion, setting it apart from its TV sci-fi predecessors such as Star Trek, whose mood was more convivial. Our heroes here are in dire circumstances that require cool heads as a survival trait. Those circumstances: the 311 crew members of Moonbase Alpha experience a cataclysm that causes the moon to break away from Earth's orbit and travel endlessly through space, turning our heroes into unintentional explorers. No TV series has created a more palpable feel of hard science fiction than this.

Of course the show is not without its detractors; it has been soundly lambasted for its many scientific errors. No less august a figure than Isaac Asimov criticized the show for its premise in the opening episode, "Breakaway," which had nuclear explosions on the "dark side of the moon" somehow propelling it out of Earth's orbit and flying through space without regard to any physical laws.

Right. Exactly. Just as what separates Warner Brothers cartoons from those of Disney is that the characters are rendered in a far more naturalistic way, except that rabbits aren't bipeds with opposable thumbs who, by the way, talk.

Posted by Ideofact at 01:31 AM | Comments (9)

January 12, 2005


Okay, one last bit before bed, an answer to a question Aziz posed here somewhere. In the fifth Surah of the Qur'an, in the 82nd verse, we find the following passage (at least according to this translation, which is the one that happens to be nearest at hand at the moment:

You will find the Jews and idolaters
most excessive in hatred of those who believe;
and the closest in love to the faithful
are the poeple who say: "We are the followers of Christ,"
because there are priests and monks among them,
and they are not arrogant.

Let's tease this apart: I'm no expert, so correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this passage is referring to a particular historical moment, when the Prophet and his followers are facing a challenge from both the Jewish tribes of Medina and the Arabs who follow the polytheist cult. The warning is to be wary of both, that both groups oppose the Prophet, but that Christians (who were, in any case, hardly a factor there) don't have a dog in that fight.

Qutb takes this passage, and argues that, because Jews are mentioned first (that is, the passage mentions Jews before it mentions polytheists), they are more evil than the Polytheists. Qutb goes on to argue that this is a permanent condition: this is where the catalog of alleged Jewish sins through history -- from the murder of 'Uthman to the fall of the Caliphate -- are listed, which is followed by this bit:

The war which the Jews launched against Islam was longer, more extensive and of greater ferocity than the war which the polytheists and idol-worshippers perpretated--then and now. Indeed, (Islam's) struggle witht he Arab polytheists did not last more than twenty years altogether...

Aziz, in his comment, noted that Qutb is going against the Qur'an here; there are passages that stress the importance of treating people of the Book well, there are passages that say that to each people comes their own revelation; there is a passage insisting that there is no compulsion in religion. Qutb will have none of this, ever, of course: To paraphrase an old line, he asks, who are you going to believe, Qutb or your own lying eyes reading of the Qur'an?

As for the Jews not being "People of the Book," I may be reading too much into Qutb, but this notion seems to be implicit throughout. Qutb argues that Jews are implacable foes of Islam engaged "in a conspiracy of calumnies agaisnt Islam's books. The only thing which was spared from this conspiracy was Allah's Book [the Qur'an], which was guaranteed by His protection..." Qutb goes on to stress that Jews had rejected their own covenant with Allah, and that, "Is there any alternative, then, but to expose them to the Muslim Community, so that the Community may know who its enemies are; what the enemies' nature is; what their history is; what means they use; and what is the reality of the battle with them in which the Muslim Community is immersed?"

Again, Qutb doesn't come out and say "Jews aren't people of the book," but he does argue that Jews are implacable foes of Islam who must be destroyed rather than protected as people of the book...

One last thing -- in quoting the above verses of the Qur'an, Qutb doesn't mention the Christian part, only the Jew and idolater part.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:49 AM | Comments (0)

Actual email...

...from an actual friend:

Subject: Headline

this is SO unfair:

Botulism Supplier Ordered to Halt Sales

That's why we've got to get this gosh turned fedrill gubbermint off our backs -- if a man cain't run his botulism bizness without the federales gettin' involved, well, this ain't America...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:37 AM | Comments (0)

How odd

I started watching the new Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi. I remember the old series as being the most dreary, depressing, disappointing thing imaginable -- you'd sort of hope that football on CBS would push 60 Minutes back an hour to give you a good excuse not to watch the only science ficition series on prime time television at the time. Boy, was it terrible, lifeless, dull -- if any series could you make you sentimental for Space 1999, this was it.

Speaking of Space 1999 -- I remember my brother had this toy, which was pretty cool, but, when it came to Gerry Anderson's work, I was always more of a Captain Scarlet fan (warning: Incredibly cool web site); Space 1999 didn't really do it for me -- I had one of these. And here's something else odd -- in the days immediately after Sept. 11, I remember thinking about those old Captain Scarlet programs (they involved puppets), and my fear then was that the world would resemble that dark fantasy, ably described on the Amazon page for the Captian Scarlet DVDs:

First broadcast in the United Kingdom in 1967, Captain Scarlet was the most grownup of all Gerry Anderson's SuperMarionation adventures. Of course there are gadgets and toy-friendly machines galore--like the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle, the Angel Aircraft, and Cloudbase itself--but, unlike the colorful fantasies of Stingray and Thunderbirds, this series' concern with an implacable, vengeful enemy, conspiracies, and double agents drew its inspiration from James Bond and the cold war spy dramas of the 1960s. Special effects whiz Derek Meddings instills the action sequences with a truly Bondian grandeur and, like the sinister SPECTRE of the Bond films, the Martian Mysterons seem all the more hostile for their unseen presence, their agents infiltrating every organization dedicated to their destruction, just as it seemed the Soviets were doing at the time. The indestructible Captain Scarlet is killed then resurrected every week (though not like South Park's Kenny), and more often than not the Mysterons emerge triumphant, and always undefeated.

That was the most disturbing thing about Captain Scarlet -- even though, at the end of each episode, some major 9/11-like event was averted -- see the plot summaries here or read this sample:

Big Ben Strikes Again
Teleplay by Tony Barwick Directed by Brian Burgess
It is almost midnight and a high destruction-ratio atomic device is being transported through London; its destination, an underground construction site ten miles outside of the city. At the wheel of the huge transporter, the driver, Macey, can only watch helplessly as his vehicle seems to take on a life of its own, careering madly through the streets, before coming to a sudden stop in an underground car park. Finding himself sealed in, Macey switches on his radio and is baffled to hear Big Ben strike thirteen times! Suddenly aware that he is no longer alone, Macey is struck from behind and knocked unconscious, but not before he has seen the atomic device become fully armed - turning it into a bomb of devastating power. Naturally, Captain Scarlet is the only hope to deal with the deadly situation.

While it always seemed that Captain Scarlet could, at the last minute, avert disaster, Spectrum (his organization -- sort of an ultra 60s chic U.N.) never seemed interested in taking the battle to the Mysterons -- even though these aliens were bent on the destruction of earth through terror. This is a particularly troubling episode:

Spectrum Strikes Back
Teleplay by Tony Barwick Directed by Ken Turner

YES! YES! KICK THEIR ASSES!! I would have screamed as a kid, but alas, it was not to be. Spectrum didn't have the heart to strike back.

Colonel White, Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue travel to the secret headquarters of the Spectrum Intelligence Agency, where Dr Giardello demonstrates two new advances in the fight against the Mysterons: the portable Mysteron Detector and the Anti-Mysteron Electron Gun. As the assembled delegates watch the demonstration, Captain Black arrives and kills Captain Indigo and it's not long before the new devices are put to the test. Intended as a sequel to 'Operation Time', Spectrum's newly developed Anti-Mysteron devices make their first (and in the case of the Electron Gun), only appearance.

Uh, so wait -- we have this Electron Gun to kill Mysterons, and we're not going to use it in subsequent episodes? Does the General Secretary of Spectrum know about this? Is he waiting for his son to be cut in on the profits for the contract to manufacture them? And I'm Captain SCARLET, so what's with this pale blue helmet?


The above photo gets to part of the problem -- too many staff meetings (I think a relatively high percentage of each episode was devoted to staff meetings, but I may be wrong...) Despite that, Scarlet and the boys did the best they could, but you couldn't help but think that they were usually doing it with two hands tied behind their backs. Take "The Heart of New York," for example:

When three crooks break into the Spectrum Security Vault, they come away with nothing but microfilm and classified documents. Their haul seems useless, until their leader discovers that it contains detailed information about the Mysterons and their powers of reconstruction. The Mysterons, meanwhile, announce that they are to attack New York - the city is evacuated and Spectrum personnel sent in to patrol the deserted streets. Using their newly-acquired information, the crooks convince Spectrum that the Mysterons' target is the Second National Bank. Colonel White is unwilling to risk Spectrum lives to protect a bank and so orders his agents to withdraw. With nothing to stand in their way, the crooks enter the unguarded bank and prepare to make off with a fortune in gold... The Spectrum personal radio receiver makes its one and only appearance in this episode. Manning a road block on the outskirts of New York, Captain Magenta dons a pair of sporty sunglasses, the arms of which contain tiny speakers which allow him to hear the voice of Captain Ochre, who is concealed nearby.

Uuuhhh...okay, so we're going to leave classified documents around where petty crooks can get them, and we're going to evacuate the City of New York because of a terrorist threat but we're not going to protect the bank that the crooks want to rob because we think that's where the Mysterons will attack but we look totally cool in our sporty sunglasses...check. Note that Captain Scarlet (who was modelled on a young Cary Grant but, for a puppet, conveys remarkably well a sort ot Brian Ferry-esque world worriness) doesn't seem to appear in this episode -- rather than retreat, he'd rather be fighting and killing Mysterons.

Which brings me back to Battlestar Galactica. In the show, war comes at a moment when most people have persuaded themselves that they live in an era of peace. I couldn't help but think of, say, the moment that the Brits woke up to find that the continent was lost, and they stood alone against a savage tide bent on world conquest and genocide. Zbigniew Herbert, the brilliant Polish poet, once wrote of his inability to take optimistic predictions of the future -- of Jetsons-like household appliances and labor saving devices -- seriously. "As though the dull march of barbarism had never before destroyed, never before extinguished our bright visions of the future." I had that feeling while watching the show and, as much as I wanted to turn away, or wished that something inconsequential and vapid was on -- say, like a dreary fiction from 60 Minutes -- I couldn't change the channel.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:14 AM | Comments (7)

January 11, 2005

5 Qutb III.

Note: Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) was an Egyptian author, literary critic, bureaucrat, and one time American student who went on to become the most prominent of the radical fundamentalist thinkers of the post-Colonial period; his political thinking has become the platform of some of the more radical terrorist groups; numerous articles note that both Osama bin Laden and Ayam al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number one and two, have been influenced by Qutb. In a number of prior posts, ideofact has explored the writings of Qutb.

Now, ideofact continues its exploration of the Sayyid Qutb essay, Our Struggle with the Jews, this time trying to read between the lines of Qutb's anti-Semitic rant.

Here is, roughly, a blueprint of Qutb's essay:

Opening: Muslims are having trouble with Jews today, in part because they've forgotten that the Qur'an teaches us how to deal with Jews and overcome their conspiracies. Hence,

Anyone who leads this Community away from its Religion and its Qur'an can only be a Jewish agent, whether he does this wittingly or unwittingly... The Jews will then be safe from this Community...

The Problem: The struggle with the Jews is not only military; rather, the Jews are trying to destroy the creed (al-'Aqidah) of Islam; the Qur'an is the only defense against their schemes, which are succeeding. "The Jews have falsified the exegesis of the Qur'an," Qutb tells us, and adds,

The Jews have instilled men and regimes (in the Islamic world), in order to conspire against this (Muslim) community....

The Tens of personalities who have been foisted upon the Muslim Community (as conspirators against it) in the guise of "heroes" were manufactured by Zionism, in order that these "heroes" should do for the enemies of Islam what these enemies are themselves not able to do openly.

...the implication here being that the various secular regimes of the 1950s -- led by "heroes" of the people like Nasser -- were installed by Jews. There are enemies within, in other words, at the very top of society, but it doesn't stop there. The Jewish agents include

...a massive army of agents in the form of professors, philosophers, doctors and researchers -- sometimes also writers, poets, scientists and journalists -- carrying Muslim names becasue they are of Muslim descent!!

Qutb goes on to explain how these people of Muslim descent are actually Zionist agents, are actually Jews (or, to follow the punctuation in the translated essay, Jews!!) and that "This conspiracy continues uninterruptedly."

The Jew: The previous sections represent the first third (roughly -- five of sixteen pages) of the essay. What follows is Qutb's disquisition on Jews. I am providing a very truncated version of Qutb's essay, and I've passed over plenty of anti-Semitic and Judeophobic rhetoric, and will do so here. This is where Qutb interprets the Qur'an to suggest that Jews are not people of the Book and in fact are worse than polytheists*, that they are behind every calamity in history, that they "harbor hatred for others" and

"make others suffer...in the form of dissensions among peoples and wars which the Jews themeslves foment in order to make profits from them. Through these wars and disturbances the Jews cultivate their continuing hatred (for others) and the destructiveness which they impose on people and which others then need to impose on them...

Qutb then ends his essay by suggesting that to best the Jews, one needs only to believe as Qutb believes. Against a true believer, the Jews have no courage or martial ability ("they turned their tails and ran away like rats").

WHILE THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT Qutb was an anti-Semite and a Jew hater, the frame he offers shows the closeness of his technique to Nazi propagandists of the 1920s and early 30s: the Jew is the enemy, your political opponents are Jews or tools of Jews. Discrediting his enemies and gaining control of the state was the first objective. He left little room for doubt about what the second would be.

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

January 10, 2005

5 Qutb II.

Note: I posted this last night over at paleo ideofact, because ideofact's host was apparently under attack much of the weekend.

Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) was an Egyptian author, literary critic, bureaucrat, and one time American student who went on to become the most prominent of the radical fundamentalist thinkers of the post-Colonial period; his political thinking has become the platform of some of the more radical terrorist groups; numerous articles note that both Osama bin Laden and Ayam al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number one and two, have been influenced by Qutb. In a number of prior posts, ideofact has explored the writings of Qutb.

In the post immediately below, Sayyid Qutb showed us in his own words why he and his project are beyond the pale. In his essay Our Struggle with the Jews, Qutb casts Jews everywhere as being, as it were, sort of eternal Judases, the constant treacherous characters or collective, the malignant force behind every misfortune faced by Muslims. Whether it was the assassination of 'Uthman, the third of the rightly guided Caliphs, or the end of the Caliphate in 1924 (actually, the second end of the Caliphate, but to Islamists like Qutb such niceties are mere details), or the establishment of the state of Israel -- the same eternal Judas, the same evil Jews, were behind it. Qutb, whom a frequent commenter on ideofact insists is quite exceptional in his Qur'anic exegesis, opens his essay by telling us that, despite suffering "from the same Jewish machinations and double-dealing which discomfited the Early Muslims," today's Muslims do not "utilize those Qur'anic directives and this Divine Guidance" that allowed its ancestors to overcome "Jewish conspiracy and double dealing" -- "thus did the Religion [Islam] arise; and thus was the Muslim Community born." Near the end of the essay, he tells us that, as punishment for their evil, "Allah brought Hitler to rule over the Jews" and that, in response to the foundation of Israel, Allah would "bring down upon the Jews people who will mete out to them the worst kind of punishment," those people being true (Qutb) believing Muslims, of course.

Now, a few prefatory remarks are in order: I meant what I said about Qutb -- calling Hitler a gift of Allah, wishing that your co-religionists will be Allah's instrument for the worst punishment -- a punishment worse than that of Hilter -- is the sort of thing which language is inadequate to condemn. Just as the autobahn or the Volkswagen do not compensate us for the six million Hitler killed, there is nothing in all of Qutb's schemes or intentions -- whatever their dubious merits -- that can mitigate his advocacy of slaughtering Jews. Full stop. There is no need to write another word.

But I will go on, because there is something else of interest in all this about Qutb, something that is certainly of secondary importance as far as I'm concerned, but that poses an intellectual question worth pondering nonetheless, and that is asking what was the reasoning behind Qutb's insistence -- his blasphemy -- that the Qur'an is a manual for slaughtering Jews.

Regrettably, as Ronald Nettler points out in Past Trials and Present Tribulations: A Muslim Fundamentalist's View of the Jews, Qutb's notion of the Jew as the eternal, eschatological enemy of Islam was the gold standard of the theology of terror and has had a fair amount of influence:

In consonance with the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb in his radical commentary on the Qur'an, Fi Thilal Al-Qur'an, "In the Shade of the Qur'an" and in his political tract, Marakatuna ma'a Al-Yahud, "Our Struggle with the Jews," Hamas views the Muslim world as being in a state of severe crisis caused by the Westernization of the Middle East. Western influence, represented by Israel, is therefore the most formidable enemy facing the Muslim world today. Hamas also shares the view that a state of war has existed since the founding of Islam in the seventh century between Muslims on the one side and Christians and Jews on the other. Qutb, referring to the Christians and Jews as the "enemies" of the Muslim world, writes:

The war against Islam started 1400 years ago, when Muslims established their state in Madinah, and became distinguished by their character and firmly established the roots of their independence in faith, concept and political system. The enemies will never stop waging this war unless they achieve their goal of turning Muslims away from their faith, so that they become non-Muslims. [Emphasis added.]

In a departure from the view of mainstream Islam that accepts Jews as fellow believers in monotheism, Hamas espouses a theological anti-Semitism that regards Israel and Jews as an embodiment of evil in the world that will, in time, be destroyed as part of the Divine plan.

Now, by the best estimate, Qutb's essay was written in Egypt, some time after 1950 but before he was imprisoned in 1954. That period roughly corresponds with the peak moment of enthusiasm for a movement that promised to revitalize Arab states, to shake off the corruption and ill effects of colonialism, and to restore the honor lost in 1948. That movement -- totalitarian in its methods, fascist in its propaganda, utterly incompetent (more Mussolini than Hitler) in its results -- was Arab Nationalism:

Like so many other events in history, it was the unintended consequences of the [1948] war [of Israeli Independence] that contributed to the surge in Arabist sentiment less than a decade later. And it happened in Egypt, the least hospitable land to the ideas of Arab nationalism and organic Arab unity. Three years after the army's humiliation in Palestine, embittered young officers, blaming the Palestine debacle and the corruption in their own country on their government, executed a military coup that toppled the monarchical regime. The officers were led by a young and quiet, yet charismatic, colonel by the name of Gamal 'Abd al-Nasir. More than any other political figure or institution, Colonel, and later, President Nasir and his policies would be inexorably linked to the rise of Arab nationalism as the dominant ideology in the area.

Emphasis added to a passage from Adeed Dawisha's excellent Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair. It is certainly not my intention here to rehash the history of the founding of Israel, the 1948 war, or the vicissitudes of Nasser's regime and the pan-Arabist movement (although I once fooled around with a series of posts dealing with the subject as one element in a broader theme, revolving around the notion that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 continues to have repercussions around the world, and we are now fighting some of the last battles of World War I). I only wanted to point out the date of Nasser's ascension (July 24, 1952), that Qutb at first enthusiastically embraced the Free Officers' coup (he wrote an ecstatic letter to General Mohammed Neguib, the coup's nominal leader, begging for a dictatorship that would reform the country), and only later turned against it. If Our Struggle with the Jews were written before Qutb was tossed into jail, it must have been 1953 or 1954, at the nadir of the appeal of fundamentalists relative to Arab nationalists.

Though this will sound counterintuitive in the extreme, I believe (contra the erudite Ronald L. Nettler) that the real enemy Qutb addressed in his essay was Nasser. To attack Nasser, Qutb needed to take what was already a robust anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in the Arab world circa 1950, and, drawing in part on European anti-Semites and in part through his own twisted Qur'anic exegesis, inflame it further by casting Jews as an existential enemy whose evil was such that they would destroy Islam and Muslims, and faulting Nasser for not attacking such a dire threat immediately.

Further, although such a conclusion does not mitigate the horror of Sayyid Qutb one iota, I tend to think that while his Jew hatred was genuine, he was completely aware of his own lies in furthering his hatred.

Of which I will tell more, in the next post in this series...

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

January 07, 2005

5 Qutb I.

Note: Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) was an Egyptian author, literary critic, bureaucrat, and sometime nudism enthusiast who went on to become the most prominent of the radical fundamentalist thinkers of the post-Colonial period; his political thinking has become the platform of some of the more radical terrorist groups; numerous articles note that both Osama bin Laden and Ayam al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number one and two, have been influenced by Qutb. In a number of prior posts, ideofact has explored the writings of Qutb.

I haven't come close to getting through 4 Qutb, on the subject of Sayyid Qutb's work The Islamic Concept and its Characteristics, but tonight I finished reading Our Struggle with the Jews, an essay Sayyid Qutb wrote some time after 1950 (the exact date is undetermined), which was published as part of Ronald L. Nettler's 1987 work, Past Trials and Present Tribulations: A Muslim Fundamentalist's View of the Jews. This latter book was published in 1987, and appears to be out of print; when I searched Amazon.com, there were no used copies of it available; nor did Alibris.com seem to have a copy.

About 70 pages of the book are given over to Nettler's commentary; the last dozen are the translation of Qutb's essay from a text which was republished in Saudi Arabia in 1970, complete with the Saudi editor's helpful notes showing where Qutb's text paralleled the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (Qutb does not mention the Protocols; the passages in question do resemble one another -- I'm not sure whether it's more exculpatory to suggest that Qutb's fantasies were inspired by the warped minds that produced the Protocols or were entirely the products of his own imagination.)

For a Muslim perspective on Nettler's introduction, one can read this; for my part, I was less interested in Nettler's views than in what Qutb had to say, although I will say that the review seems off point; for example, the reviewer faults Nettler for not making any distinction between Jews, Zionism and Israel, yet Nettler's analysis is devoted to Qutb's essay, and Qutb makes no such distinctions.

Nettler does, I think, address this point indirectly, but what in fact is most striking to me in Qutb's discourse on the Jews is that the Jews form not just a malevolent monolith in his own day, but rather, "Jew" is a hostile, collective identity spanning from the days of Moses and the golden calf to the present of Marx, Freud, Durkheim and Israel. (At least Qutb leaves out Jean Paul Sartre, whom, oddly enough, the Saudi editor identifies as yet another godless Jew in a footnote.):

...The Jews also conspired against Islam by inciting its enemies against it throughout the world...This has brought the Jews of the latest era to being the chiefs of the struggle with Islam, on every foot of the face of the earth...The Jews are (also) the ones who utilize Christianity and idolatry in this comprehensive war ...... And they attack every foundation of this religion (Islam), in a Crusader-Zionist war!! How right was Allah, the most Mighty, in saying: "You will surely find the worst enemies of the Muslims to be the Jews and the polytheists."

The ones who incited the various parties against the emerging Muslim state in Medina, and brought together the Jews of Banu Qurayzah and others with the Quraysh of Mecca and the other (Arab) tribes in the Peninsula...was a Jew.

The one who incited the poeples, brought together the small groups, and set loose the sectarian movements in eht assassination of Uthman--may Allah be pleased with him--and all the catastrophes that followed this assassination...was a Jew.

Those who conducted a campaign of disparagement and lies against the sacred narratives of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him), and other sacred transmissions (about the Messenger), and against the biographical traditions concerning him...was a Jew.

And a Jew was behind the incitement of various kinds of tribal arrogance in the last Caliphate; the (fomenting) of revolutions which began with the removal of the Shari'ah from the legislation and substituting for it "The Constitution" during the period of the Sultan, 'Abd al-Hamid; and the "hero" Ataturk's ending of the Caliphate. Then behind the subsequent war declared against the first signs of Islamic revival, from every place on the face of the earth...stood the Jews.

Behind the doctrine of atheistic materialism was a "Jew"; behind the doctrine of animalistic sexuality was a Jew; and behind the destruction of the family and the shattering of sacred relationships in society...was a Jew.

I am unhappy enough to have this much of Qutb's anti-Semitic bile on my blog; I'm not going to add any more (although it's not for lack of other examples; the penultimate section of essay concludes with Qutb's vision of the divine hand of justice in Hitler and the Holocaust, and his promise that soon enough the Arabs would mete out still more glorious punishment to the Jews). Needless to say, this kind of thought is irredeemable; what interests me is not so much what Qutb wrote about Jews, but rather, the question of why he chose to wrote about Jews, and, once he had made that decision, what his intentions were. In this vein, it is fascinating that he concluded his essay not with the the horrifying promise of the Muslims embarking on a second Holocaust, but rather with several paragraphs explaining that, just as the Qur'an says, in combat the Jews would only fight from behind fortified walls. Absent such protection, they run like rats. The implication of the whole is that, militarily, the Jews will be quite easy to beat, if only Muslims return to the pure tenets of the Qur'an, which of course Allah left to a 20th century nudism enthusiast and anti-Semite to impart to the world....

Posted by Ideofact at 12:22 AM | Comments (11)

January 04, 2005

4 Qutb 1:1

It's interesting to see, when reading Sayyid Qutb, whom he chooses to rely on for his information. In fact, one of the more interesting things about The Islamic Concept and its Characteristics is the extent to which Qutb quotes Westerners in his arguments. In his first chapter, Qutb describes that "trackless wilderness without a guide, devoid of guidance and light, and devoid of rest and certainty" in which "man was groping helplessly and hopelessly to understand his God and God's attributes, man's relationship with the universe, the ultimate purpose of the universe, the ultimate purpose of his existence, the way to attain his purpose, and in particular, the connection between God man" -- that is, the world before (and, oddly enough, after) Islamic Revelation.

The translation of the chapter's title, "The Wilderness and the Intellectual Rubbish," is not quite satisfying, since there's very little of the intellect involved. Qutb quotes Biblical passages and Qur'anic verses on the story of the golden calf, on the general perfidy of Jews (on which much more in the next post) before moving on to Christians. Qutb relies on John William Draper, a scientist rather hostile to Christianity, rather dramatically so...

Draper, with no footnotes or references cannot even claim to give an illusion of scholarship. Colin Russell, in a recent summary of the historiography of the alleged warfare sums up the views of modern scholarship, saying “Draper takes such liberty with history, perpetuating legends as fact that he is rightly avoided today in serious historical study. ..."

Draper doesn't take many pains to hide his biases either:

The antagonism we thus witness between Religion and Science is the continuation of a struggle that commenced when Christianity began to attain political power. A divine revelation must necessarily be intolerant of contradiction; it must repudiate all improvement in itself, and view with disdain that arising from the progressive intellectual development of man. But our opinions on every subject are continually liable to modification, from the irresistible advance of human knowledge.

Can we exaggerate the importance of a contention in which every thoughtful person must take part whether he will or not? In a matter so solemn as that of religion, all men, whose temporal interests are not involved in existing institutions, earnestly desire to find the truth. They seek information as to the subjects in dispute, and as to the conduct of the disputants.

The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.

No one has hitherto treated the subject from this point of view. Yet from this point it presents itself to us as a living issue -- in fact, as the most important of all living issues.


In speaking of Christianity, reference is generally made to the Roman Church, partly because its adherents compose the majority of Christendom, partly because its demands are the most pretentious, and partly because it has commonly sought to enforce those demands by the civil power. None of the Protestant Churches has ever occupied a position so imperious -- none has ever had such wide-spread political influence. For the most part they have been averse to constraint, and except in very few instances their opposition has not passed beyond the exciting of theological odium.

As to Science, she has never sought to ally herself to civil power. She has never attempted to throw odium or inflict social ruin on any human being. She has never subjected any one to mental torment, physical torture, least of all to death, for the purpose of upholding or promoting her ideas. She presents herself unstained by cruelties and crimes. But in the Vatican -- we have only to recall the Inquisition -- the hands that are now raised in appeals to the Most Merciful are crimsoned. They have been steeped in blood!

Interestingly, Qutb doesn't quote Draper on the struggle between science and religion (although that was a constant theme in his writings on European society -- Qutb obviously absorbed quite a bit of Draper's quackery), but rather quotes three passages describing the early history of Christianity, the first suggesting that the rise to dominance of Christianity in the fourth century A.D. was accomplished by pagans seeking "place, power, profit," and that "crowds of worldly persons who cared nothing about its religious ideas became its warmest supporters." Then we learn that Christianity was never able to destroy paganism, and that paganism overwhelmed Christianity (perhaps Draper is referring to the devotion to classical literature of the likes of St. Jerome and St. Augustine). And finally, that the emporers were not sincere Christians, and Christians didn't seem to much care.

That Qutb would find Draper useful is not surprising. He confirms two prejudices of Qutb's -- that Christianity is a sham and that science is utterly hostile to religion.

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


I wish I had a good one for this year. In 2004 I quit smoking -- it's been months since I last had a cigarette, and while I occasionally miss the act of smoking (particularly when watching a Bogart film), I think it's unlikely I'll ever have one again. Cigarettes join a long list of abadnoned youthful affectations, including everything from a pierced ear to a bad love affair -- as Lloyd Cole put it, "Must you tell me all your secrets when it's hard enough to love you knowing nothing?"

For 2005, the only serious resolution I have is getting my wisdom teeth out. Or rather, of the things I'd like to do more of or do better -- writing, reading, spending time with my son and my wife and the rest of my family -- getting my wisdom teeth out is the only one that strikes me as being exceedingly unpleasant. I would be disappointed if I didn't, say, find the time to read some H.P. Lovecraft tales this year, or be the cameraman for the horror movie my six year old wants to make, but I don't think I'll be missing a life affirming experience if I manage to put off doing something about my wisdom teeth for another 12 months. (Which is why I'm making an appointment tomorrow...).

Speaking of teeth, smoking and amateur films, check out the short "A Primer for Dental Extraction" currently on this page (which I found indirectly via this important post from Ghost of a Flea. Not quite as unsettling as I thought it would be, but perhaps that's only because I've steeled myself for my own approaching extractions...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:42 AM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2005

Qutb, Sayyid 3)

I don't often delete things I've written, but I did delete the original version of this post, a further exploration of the identity of Sayyid Qutb, which I dashed off last night. I started thinking about this question when frequent ideofact commenter Abu Noor al-Irlandee challenged the characterization of Qutb as the premier philosopher of Islamic terror, and was pushed to further reflections by a comment Aziz Poonawalla of City of Brass left on this post, in which he notes that in my Qutb writings, the broader context is sometimes obscured (he's too nice to say lost altogether, although I think that's happened as well); originally, that context was noting contrasts between historical Islam and Qutb's political interpretation of Islam.

Along the way, other themes have cropped up. I find it fascinating, for example, that Qutb would dismiss Islamic philosophy -- which borrowed terminology and techniques from Aristotle, Plotinus and other classical figures in order to better think about the universe, the nature of God and man according to Qur'anic precepts -- that goes out the window as being insufficiently Islamic. Yet the same Qutb imbibed some of the worst of European anti-Semitism, wrote a pamphlet called "Our Struggle with the Jews" in which he Islamicizes the most despicable forms of Western and Christian anti-Semitism -- the notion that Jews are some malevolent, deviant, polluted race attempting to degrade the whole world and destroy Islam -- and he sees nothing wrong with that. No Aristotelian logic, but the poison of a Julius Streicher is something that is consistent, in Qutb's view, with Islam.

This is not the sort of thing that strikes me as a minor point. If Qutb believes the fantasies of Nazis regarding Jews, if he believed the plots of "world Jewry" (note that the reference has nothing to do with Israel; Qutb's wraith is directed at Jews the world over) is what afflicted the Ummah, why would we regard his prescriptions as anything but nonsense? If you went to a doctor with a painful twinge in your elbow, and he diagnosed it not as tendinitis or arthritis but rather as a case of witchcraft, would you regard his recommendation that you boil your urine in a pot to inflict pain on the witch who cast the spell as a useful treatment?

Posted by Ideofact at 10:00 PM | Comments (1)