February 28, 2005

Qutbdate

I haven't entirely given up writing about Sayyid Qutb or his brother, though it increasingly appears that history is moving in such a contrary direction so quickly that I might as well be writing about the politics of the Byzantine empire (a subject that actually does interest me, but let's not stray too far from the point). Egypt and Lebanon following on the heels of Afghanistan and Iraq (of course, one could throw Ukraine in there as well) -- it's early days, but Christopher Hitchens puts it nicely:

This doesn't entitle those of us in the regime-change camp to claim the "street" either. It simply means that those who once annexed the term have been forced to drop it, and for a good reason. The struggle for public opinion in the region is a continuing one and cannot be determined in advance, least of all by pseudo-populists who grant the violent Islamists their first premise.

The rest of the Hitchens piece, by the way, is fantastic. As for the struggle for public opinion, well, let the struggle begin. Much nicer to be focus grouped than to have the boot on one's face!

Posted by Ideofact at 11:24 PM | Comments (3)

February 27, 2005

Zahir

Oscar night -- such things don't interest me especially, since art is, after all, not a competition. Still, the circus around the Oscars is hard to resist. My favorite part is the endless discussions of the gowns of stars and starlets -- who made them, how they look and what they signify. (I can assure you -- there are shows in which someone's red dress at the Oscars signifies a coming of age, while someone else's red dress is an avatar of a career collapse, while a third red dress is an ironic jab at the roles Hollywood has for women.) Oddly -- or perhaps not, since we're talking about the one art form which most people actually see and a form of commerce in which billions changes hands -- such criticism actually makes sense to me, or is sensible in a way that much literary, dance or art criticism I've read does not. And, more broadly, it struck me the other day that I really enjoy the prose of Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post's film critic, and read him even if I have no interest in the movie he's reviewing. He's a good writer with a keen eye and the ability to convey to a reader something of the essence of an unseen film -- not a bad skill set for a critic to have. (I quite enjoyed his recent love letter to the trench coat.)

As to the parade on the red carpet, and the semiotics of evening gowns, I'm reminded of a passage from (who else?) Borges, in the short story The Zahir:

The Hebrews and the Chinese codified every conceivable human eventuality; it is written in the Mishnah that a tailor is not to go out into the street carrying a needle once the Sabbath twighlight has set in, and we read in the Book of Rites that a guest should assume a grave air when offered the first cup, and a respectfully contented air upon receiving the second. Something of this sort, though in much greater detail, was to be discerned in the uncompromising strictness which Clementina Villar demanded of herself. Like any Confucian adept or Talmudist, she strove for irreproachable correctness in every action; but her zeal was more admirable and more exigent than theirs because the tenets fo her creed were not eternal, but submitted to the shifting caprices of Paris or Hollywood. ...She was in search of the Absolute, like Flaubert; only hers was an Absolute of a moment's duration.

...like the moment an actress catches the cameras while making her entrance on the red carpet....

Posted by Ideofact at 09:42 PM | Comments (0)

February 24, 2005

Ibbur again

Another of those weirdo emails arrived (I neglected to mention that the subject lines always contain the letters "I-b-b-u-r," either sequentially or spaced ("Ibbur," "Ib bur," "Ibb u r") and some other nonsense -- Ibb ur text or Ibb ur 32% or I bbu r followed by gibberish characters that may have been typed in Cryllic letters, or some such. This one seems to pick up the thread of the one I posted previously. It wasn't in sequence, and there were several that came in between with some sort of Ibbur heading with more or less the same format -- I dug this one, which has nothing to do with the mysterious Ash -- or much else -- out of the trash bin:

Darlin! :)

Death doesn't frighten me. There is not so much comfort in having children as there is sorrow in parting with them.

Time and money spent in helping men to do more for themselves is far better than mere giving. You don't drown by falling in the water you drown by staying there. ...

...and on and on for pages. Most of these emails read like the above example, but a small subset are different -- well, here's the example:

What the police are following up on and missing in the Ash murder investigation:

Video surveillance tape from the Museum of Victorian Morality shows journalist C.K. entering at 7:45 p.m. and leaving at 8:15 p.m. Time of murder estimated at 9 p.m. What interests police: C.K. enters empty handed, leaves with a thick envelope. Given Ash's trade in peculiar pictures of children, suspicions are, naturally, aroused.

C.K. in fact visited Ash at the non-profit Museum of Victorian Morality to get the organization's tax returns. C.K. stonewalled police until Lt. Jacoby, lead investigator, showed him photos, whereupon C.K. explained his interest in Ash: investigating allegations of tax evasion.

Regarding the tax forms, what neither C.K. nor the police noticed was the name of the man who prepared the returns: Darquier de Pellepoix.

Googling Darquier de Pellepoix...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:37 AM | Comments (2)

February 23, 2005

Why the Classics

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As though the dull march of barbarism had never before destroyed, never before extinguished our bright visions of the future.

--Zbigniew Herbert

Photo credit: Robert Fisch

For some time, I have been trying to imagine what for most of us perhaps is unimaginable -- what if the Islamofascists were to win, what would that look like, how would it come about. I do not think this is a likely prospect, I do not lie awake most nights considering it anymore, although perhaps I should. It is perhaps too easy, more than three years after 9/11, to dismiss the latest rantings of an Ayman al-Zawahiri, claiming the U.S. "crusade" will collapse -- as if religious conversion is what we're after -- and promising that the West will suffer tens of thousands of casualties and economic collapse at the hands of al Qaeda. But let's recall that the entire Sept. 11 operation cost, as I recall, far less than $1 million, involved probably 30 or so fanatics (perhaps more or less, I won't quibble), and resulted in articles like the one I just plucked off of Nexis, from USAToday on Oct. 22, 2001:

Last week, the United Nations slashed its forecast for world growth this year to 1.4% from 2.4% in a report that says the attacks "inflicted a sizable shock on the world economy."

Asia is recoiling faster and further than previously thought. The USA is limping through at least a short-term downturn. And many economists have halved Europe's 2% growth estimate to 1%. The World Bank predicts the attacks will push 10 million in the Third World into poverty next year.

(The article is entitled "Attacks paralyzed BAX shipments worldwide," written by Elliot Blair Smith, and ran in the business section on page 3B, for those keeping score at home. Sorry, I couldn't find it online, so no link.)

Perhaps Mr. al-Zawahiri's bringers of death exist only in his disturbed mind; perhaps, as has always been the case, the Islamofascist killers most readily kill those closest to hand--other Muslims. Further, we may well have far more to fear from microscopic threats -- it's well worth recalling that, horrific as the First World War was (8 million dead), the subsequent Spanish Influenza killed at least 25 million people -- in a single year. In any case, while it is not difficult to imagine devastating or disruptive attacks (destroying the Arabian oil fields would probably plunge the world into a depression -- although I imagine such a course would be far more devastating to Arab economies than to the West), it is harder to imagine a sequence of events that would in fact lead to the destruction of the Western economy without also leading to far worse destruction of that economy's marginal players in the Middle East. Again, given their history, it's not hard to imagine that Islamist radicals wouldn't bat an eyelash at killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims and impoverishing hundreds of millions more in an effort to kill tens of thousands Westerners, and perhaps reducing their standard of living noticeably. I'm not sure though that that outcome is what Mr. al-Zawahiri means by economic collapse. Would he consider it an accomplishment to reintroduce the stagflation of the 1970s? To create conditions equivalent to the 1930s Depression? Or something more lasting?

ON PAGE 51 OF Mohammed, Charlemagne & the Origins of Europe, authors Richard Hodges and David Whitehouse tell us that Rome, a city of perhaps a million inhabitants around the time of the birth of Christ, had declined, some 450 years later, to less than half that (about 400,000) and, within 75 years of that, had fallen precipitously -- the authors do not tell us an exact figure, but they do not that the decline occurred at a time when the surrounding countryside was also losing population, evidenced by the abandoment of settlements and farmland. Figures of fewer than 100,000 have been given, but these are rough estimates.

Among the more interesting questions to ask, it seems to me, is what happened to all the people? The decline, according to Hodges and Whitehouse, was precipitous, and it can't be explained through flight to the surrounding hills.

As fascinating as the various theories of the cause (or rather causes) of the collapse are, what interests me, at least here, are the effects. The Roman Empire created a massive exchange and distribution system, in which manufactured goods, raw materials, ephemera like philosophies and religions, cereals, spices, furs, and human beings (it was a slave economy, after all) were traded over great distances and in fairly large quantities. As the Empire lost its grip, as the trade of various goods, including grain, became less reliable and then all but ceased -- well, within a few generations, an urban population of 450,000 has been pared down to a remnant.

This didn't happen all at once, of course, but one wonders how it appeared to the average Roman. One day, you're buying African red slipware -- relative to earlier pottery styles, this was functional but graceless -- for your table...

ARS.jpg

...to serve your bread on, and the next, it can't be acquired. Imagine a future in which Target or the Mikasa outlet or J.C. Penneys no longer carry ceramic tableware, and you have to find clay yourself, shape it, and bake it on the oven along with the bread you made from scratch from the wheat you grew in the backyard last summer (since your Supermarket no longer exists) -- perhaps a sign that things weren't going so well.

I occasionally read things on sites like this one which seem to suggest that self sufficient economies are somehow morally superior to ones based on international exchange; why this should be the case I'm not sure. To think that someone who enjoys Dominican cigars, Polish literature, Malaysian electronic goods (or are they? Perhaps U.S.-Japanese-Malaysian is a better description), Greek wine, textiles from an odd assortment of Latin American, Asian and Eastern European countries, is somehow morally inferior to someone who buys only goods produced by his neighbors strikes me as being a bizarre notion. (Then there are the practical considerations -- as partial as I am to my neighborhood, I have to admit that neither the soil nor the climate is ideal for growing coffee beans...).

It's remarkable how many unknown and unseen people I rely upon for a cigar, a glass of wine, this computer. I tend to think that the creation of such networks is an innate human characteristic -- while Rome proper was all but deserted, sinking deeper and deeper into the dark ages, a trading network involving the Caliphate, Vikings, Charlemagne's Franks, Indians, Chinese and others established itself (perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the network rerouted itself around the dead parts of the old Mediterranean segment). People traded goods from India to Andalusia, from Baghdad to Brittany. (I've mentioned this before here, for example.)

I don't know whether al-Zawahiri has ever paused to contemplate all this, or whether it is either simply beyond his comprehension or something he regards as evil: free men and women exchanging goods and services and ideas and labor and capital and customs and cuisines across borders. When one's utopia is totalitarian, with directives enforced from above with the barrel of the gun or, more appropriately to him, with the vanguard wielding stones, when the first photograph in this post elicits a joyous reaction rather than horror, there's little doubt that, in Herbert's words, the dull march of barbarism hasn't missed a step.

Suppose that your utopia could be achieved at the cost of, oh, say half the earth's population, and that under this utopia, average life expectancy would be 50 years. Would an al-Zawahiri even pause when asked whether it were worth it?

Posted by Ideofact at 12:00 AM | Comments (1)

February 22, 2005

Misunderstanding

I guess I really don't understand movie criticism...

A couple of weeks ago, in the bargain bin at our DVD store (no longer a video store, really), I came across a movie I'd never heard of, The Man Who Cried; since it had Johnny Depp and John Turturro (two favorite actors of both my wife and me), I figured I'd gamble and give it a shot.

We were both pleasantly surprised -- the film is far more engaging than, say, The English Patient, which all but put me to sleep when I saw it.

What I don't understand is why The Man Who Cried garnered such terrible reviews when it came out. Sure, this is no Citizen Kane or even the Wizard of Oz, but it's hard for me to understand why this reasonably engaging movie would be trashed while a tedious film like the English Patient (is it over yet? is this thing still going? okay, they can end it now...Nooooo!) gets rave critical reviews.

Tough to figure...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:16 AM | Comments (2)

February 20, 2005

Wild kingdom

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I think this is a red tailed hawk; I got this picture of it perching in our neighbor's tree about twenty minutes ago, after I noticed it swooping overhead. There have been a number of sightings of this bird or its buddy (there are sometimes two of them) over the last several months in our rather built-up suburban area of Arlington, Virginia. I have no idea what they're doing here, but they seem to be doing it reasonably well.

Posted by Ideofact at 03:16 PM | Comments (2)

February 17, 2005

Louis Feuillade: A Sampling of a Master

I'm going to miss it all, unfortunately, but the Museum of Modern Art in New York is featuring films from one of my favorite pioneers:

Louis Feuillade (1874–1925), a French filmmaker who wrote and directed approximately 800 shorts, features, and serials in his eighteen-year career, was a pioneer of narrative film. Together with his contemporary in America, D.W. Griffith, Feuillade developed a language for the modern art of the moving image. Feuillade’s cinema transcended the conventions of the proscenium stage; he exchanged theatrical artifice for both realism and the freedom of open-air shooting. As a journalist, he recognized cinema’s potential for storytelling and reportage. In 1905, he met Alice Guy, head of production at Gaumont. Within a year, he became Gaumont’s principal director. In addition to short social dramas, chase films, comedies, and popular series with the precocious child characters Bébé and Bout de Zan, he made mysteries that later evolved into fantastic serials like Fantômas (1913), Les Vampires (1915), Judex (1917), and Tih Minh (1919); shot on locations throughout France, they thrilled the Surrealists with their sense of menace and embrace of modern technology. The exhibition opens in February with four programs of shorts and feature films, and continues through June with four serials, shown one per month.

I've been watching a chapter of Judex every other night the past week, and while it doesn't quite equal Les Vampires, it's still an engaging work, one that has a jaded, 21st Century man wondering, at the end of each chapter, "What happens next?"

Posted by Ideofact at 11:10 PM | Comments (2)

Ibbur

I have lately been subjected to a bizarre string of emails, beginning with a series of garbled letters -- maybe "txvb eg xweb ..." and so on for pages, then some kind of graphic element that my computer automatically blocks, then some unsettling text (here is the latest sample):

The otherwsie respectable Ash, whom you know from his numerous price fixing schemes, was found dead in the great hall of his tax avoiding non-profit Museum of Victorian Morality. Cause of death not ascertained on the scene, but the police report noted that the former Mr. Ash's thorax had been carefully opened, as if for a dissection.

This you did not suspect: the former Mr. Ash was found lying on a heap of photographs of children posed in ways that would make any Dickens think Victorian child labor was, by comparison, humane. Ash had long been a dealer of the stuff.

Early indications are that the murder was revenge (justifiable, you'd agree) from a victim of Mr. Ash's hitherto unknown business venture. There is great interest in an otherwise undescribed book stolen from the premises.

Police believe the killer motivated by metempsychosis.

And then more garble, and then some kind of pitch for herbal medicine or aroma therapy. The return addresses from these emails never work -- replies just bounce back.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:53 PM | Comments (2)

February 16, 2005

Contrast

I write much (too much) of Sayyid Qutb here, following his tortured and torturing readings, so perhaps as a change of pace, a quote from Tariq Ramadan I came across the other day. I don't know much about Ramadan; I didn't quite understand what Paul Berman had against him in Terror and Liberalism except that he wasn't as cool as Camus (something to which few scholars can aspire...)

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(...actually, just looking at that photo makes me long for a gaulloise with black coffee on the side...)

... but back to Ramadan. I don't think the U.S. government ever offered much by of explanation as to why he wasn't allowed to accept an academic post at Notre Dame (I seem to recall), but I didn't get especially incensed about that one way or the other, although I seem to recall the Washington Post published, as is sometimes their habit, a hyperbole laden commentary calling Ramadan the Muslim Martin Luther.

In any case, as I mentioned somewhere below as well as above, I came across an interesting quote from Ramadan that seems worthy of typing in here:

So individuals, innocent and free, have to make their choices (either to accept or to reject the Revelation); there will necessarily be diversity among people, and so these three seemingly similar verses contain teachings that augment and complete each other: "Had God so willed, He would have united them [human beings] in guidance, so do not be among the ignorant"; "If your Lord had so willed, everyone on earth would have believed. Is if for you to compel people to be believers?"; "If God had willed, He would have made you one community but things are as they are to test you in what He has given you. So compete with each other in doing good." The first verse instructs us that diversity is willed by the Transcendant, the second makes clear that, in the name of that will, compulsion in matters of religion is forbidden, and the Revelation teaches that the purpose of these differences is to test us in order to discover what we are going to do with what has been revealed to us: the last commandment is to use these differences to "compete in doing good." Diversity of religions, nations and peoples is a test becasue it requires that we learn to manage difference, which is in itself essential: "If God did not enable some men to keep back others, the world would be corrupt. But God is the One who gives grace to the worlds"; "If God did not enable some men to keep back others, hermitages, synagogues, chapels and mosques where the name of God is often called upon, would have been demolished." These two verses give complementary information that is of prime importance: if there were no differences between people, if power were in the hands of one group alone (one nation, one race, or one religion), the earth would be corrupt because human beings need others to limit their impulsive desire for expansion and domination. The last verse is more precise with regard to our present discussion; it refers to places of worship to indicate that if there is to be diversity of religions, the purpose is to safeguard them all: the fact that the list of places begins with hermitages, synagogues and chapels before referring to mosques shows recognition of all these places of worship and their inviolability and, of course, respect for those who pray there. So, just as diversity is the source of our test, the balance of power is a requirement of our destiny.

It seems a bit more intellectually stimulating than a reading of the Qur'an as a rather complicated firearms permit, but perhaps I just don't understand these nuances at all...

Meanwhile, while the craving for cigarettes and coffee has passed, I can't help thinking how pleasurable it would be to read the The Stranger again...Regrettably, I don't have a copy in the house. Have to content myself with something else...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:22 PM | Comments (6)

February 15, 2005

M. Qutb

The grippe's grip is weakening, but I'm not up to much tonight. Between Sunday and Monday, in a 40 hour stretch, I think I slept for 35, but never for more than two in a row. Nasty.

Today I was marginally better, well enough to read a bit. I was flipping through a book by Sayyid Qutb's brother Muhammad, who for a time was bin Laden's tutor. Charming sentiments from brother Muhammad, including this one, stuck in the midst of a discussion of whether Islam countenances electric toasters, jet planes or other forms of modern technology:

A gun, for example, is an invention which has no religion, colour or homeland but you will not be Muslim if you use it in committing aggression against others. Islam requires that a gun shall only be used in repulsing aggression or in spreading the Word of God throughout the world.

A gun is an awfully odd implement to use in spreading the Word of God throughout the world, especially if "committing aggression against others" is one of the things makes you not a Muslim. Perhaps "threatening aggression with a deadly weapon in order to spread the word of God" isn't considered such a serious offense -- provided you have a permit, a registered gun, and it's the proper season for spreading the word of God to the Infidels. Regrettably, the discussion of the permissible manners and times for using the gun as a tool of Godwordspreading is derisively brief here.

Now, back to bed for me...

Posted by Ideofact at 10:42 PM | Comments (8)

The Grippe

...or why I'm swooning...yes, I've caught the flu. My symptoms seem entirely different from my wife's and son's, but noxious enough on their own...

More later, assuming the fever doesn't return...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2005

Guilty pleasures

Okay, I admit it -- I'm hooked on the remake of Battlestar Galactica. Yes, it sometitmes drives me nuts. In one episode, when the survival of the human depends upon a dangerous mission to get water, it is decided that free men are incapable of taking such risks (no blood sweat toil and tears for this show), so prisoners are enlisted. Another episode had the opportunity to teach a hard lesson -- that sometimes it's better to sacrifice the character played by a comely Hollywood starlet when the survival of the human race hangs in the balance -- but the producers chose the easy way out. Everyone gambles on the longest of odds and -- hooray! -- it all pays off in the end! As an old Boomtown Rats song put it, "in the end there's lots of dancing songs and smiles -- you need lots of smiles..."

But I truly like Edward James Olmos, one of only two actors in the show who seems able to express the existential crisis of humanity. No, he's not the epitome of existential cool (an old Theater of the Living Arts catalog applied that phrase to Mel Gibson in Road Warrior and Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon -- right BOTH times!!), but rather the epitome of existential burnout.

Tonight's episode was disappointing in so many ways -- lies are a fascinating phenomena, but I don't think normally honest liars would act in quite the way the Galactica crew acted. The most pertinent question (how was it that cylons managed to fly those jets into the World ... er, how was it that the cylons managed to kill billions of people?) was never asked, and Olmos' Adama, who correctly shut down the inquisition, refused to offer the obvious alternative to the inquisitioners questions: Having lost at Pearl Harbor, at Fort Sumter, having lost the battle of New York in the 18th or the 21st century, what is our plan for winning?

Yet you can't help feeling that Olmos' character, burnt out as he is, is obsessed with that question, and doesn't know the answer, and worries that it can't be answered... and, despite his burnout, despite the horror, despite the "specicide," refuses to give up. And you can't help but root for a man like that...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:19 PM | Comments (2)

February 10, 2005

Qutbdate

I suppose it's nothing more than a coincidence, but the latest rant from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two (in more ways than one, I presume), hits many of the same themes of our friend Sayyid Qutb:

Liberty as construed by the Americans was based on "usurious banks, giant companies, misleading media outlets and the destruction of others for material gain," charged the voice in the recording aired by Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera.

Real freedom was "not the liberty of homosexual marriages and the abuse of women as a commodity to gain clients, win deals or attract tourists," said the voice.

I'll update this later tonight with the exact quotes, but in Qutb's understanding, the only possible reason a woman would be in the workplace would be to flash a little flesh to win business, showing as usual his contempt for both women (who could only have merits outside the family as sexpots) and men (who are only capable of valuing them as such). In his view, all capitalism ended in monopoly (whereas monopoly is the death of capitalism). The only new item is that gay marraige has been added to the mix.

Update: Here's a couple of quotes from Qutb, to give a sense of what I had in mind, from Social Justice in Islam:

And while today we watch the materialistic West preferring women to men in some professions, particularly in commerce, in embassies, in consulates, and in information services such as newspapers and the like, we must not forget the regrettable and unsavory significance of this advancement. It is a form of slavery and servitude in an atmosphere of the smoke of incense and opium. It is the exploitation of the sex instinct of customers by the merchants; and similarly the government appoints women to embassies and consulates, all newspaper editors send women to glean news and information. All of them are merely attempting to make use of women and they know what success women can have in these fields. They know, too, what she must give to achieve her success. And even if she gives nothing -- which is unlikely -- they know what hungry passions and eager eyes encompass her body and her words. But they take advantage of women's hunger for material gain and for some slight success; for humane and noble feelings are far, far from them.

Note: First of all, nothing bothers my dry cleaner so much as the smell of opium and incense in all my sports jackets. Second, it apparently does not occur to Qutb that women might end up as bosses. Third, it appears that Qutb thinks all men regard a woman as being nothing more than what's between her legs; I presume the lifelong bachelor and onetime nudist enthusiast spoke from personal experience.

Regarding business, Qutb wrote,

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

***

...when American capitalism reaches the end of its tether, when the restraints of monopolies are tightened, when the ordinary man sees that he has no longer the opportunity of himself becoming a capitalist, when wages drop because of the tightening of monopoly control or for any other reason, then the American worker is going to turn right over to communism...

There are better examples, and were it not so late (1:43 a.m. now) I'd dig them out, but it's time for bed. It is worth noting that Qutb's odd ideas about capitalism (he seemed to believe that monopoly was the goal of the capitalist system, whereas Adam Smith bitched and moaned about monopolies and even price fixing among competitors) are worthy of a post or a series of posts all by themselves...

Posted by Ideofact at 05:27 PM | Comments (1)

February 09, 2005

Housekeeping

I've updated the favorites' list, adding Praktike's Place, chez Nadezhda, to Dean's World (and thanks to Mary, better known by me at least for her writings on Exit Zero, for the recent link -- nothing like a link from a popular blog to fluff up the hit counter), and, finally and quite happily for me, to Out of Lascaux, which disappeared for a long time but has been back for the last two months (I have a lot to catch up on!).

Posted by Ideofact at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2005

4 Qutb 1:2

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, and returns now to its look at The Islamic Concept and Its Characteristics; for prior posts in this series, see here.

Ahmed Ali, in his translation of the Qur'an, renders the 75th ayah of the third Surah, the Family of Imran, thusly:

There are some among the people of the Book
who return a whole treasure entrusted to them;
yet some there are who do not give back a dinar
until you demand and insist,
because they say: "It is not a sin for us
to (usurp) the rights of the Arabs."
Yet they lie against God, and they know it.

The passage comes after several ayat that discuss, in turn, Christians, Jews or both groups (the mysterious Sabeans are absent from the discussion); its meaning seems fairly clear: that some Christians and some Jews will return a treasure; others will cheat you, but doing so violates the tenets of their own religion (which it surely does -- "Thou shalt not steal" does not have fine print suggesting that the commandment is void where prohibited, results may vary, some sold separately, and does not apply to Arabs).

I would not presume to go further -- Qur'anic exegesis is something beyond the poor powers of my altogether limited cultural knowledge. Nonetheless, I think I can fairly say that Sayyid Qutb's reading of the same ayah should make us, at the very least, scratch our heads.

In the first chapter of The Islamic Concept and Its Characteristics, the title of which is translated as "The Wilderness and the Intellectual Rubbish," Qutb tries to explain the barbarism of the world into which Islam was introduced. Interestingly, he spends most of his time denouncing not the pagan Arab polytheists (who were, after all, the chief adversaries of the Prophet*), but rather Christians and Jews. It is the latter group, the Jews, that leads Qutb (an enthusiastic Jew hater) to cite the aforementioned ayah:

Their ethnic mania was such that they believed that God was their tribal deity! This god of theirs does not call them to account concerning their moral behavior except when they deal with each other. As far as strangers, that is, non-Jews, are concerned, he does not hold them accountable for their shameful behavior toward them.

There follows the 3:75, the above quoted ayah, to "confirm" Qutb's characterization of Jews. That some of these Jews will return a treasure, that all of them should know that their religion demands they deal ethically with strangers, that the verse seems to apply equally to Christians and Jews, is of little concern to Qutb. I have often heard that Qutb was a first-rate interpreter of the Qur'an -- I didn't realize that creativity played so large a measure in his reputation.

*--boneheaded homonym confusion corrected (thanks Aziz!)

Posted by Ideofact at 01:02 AM | Comments (13)

February 07, 2005

Tempest, teapot

There was a bizarre item in the post last Friday, indicative, I think, not so much of the sort of great cultural rift between blue and red staters, but of the ways in which those of us in the middle are often pushed to one side or another by over-reach. Debra Chasnoff, a filmmaker and head of something called Respect for All (for the Taliban? for Timothy McVeigh?) wrote of PBS' decision to not air an episode of its Arthur series -- Buster the Bunny apparently meets two friends whose parents are lesbians. Now, for those of you who have had to suffer through Arthur -- which is sort of a PBS version of the old Davey and Goliath show -- the idea that any children who are old enough to register the concept of lesbian parents actually watch the show is rather remote. (When I asked my six year old if he'd like to watch Arthur with me, his reaction was only slightly less of a gag than that induced by the foul-tasting anti-biotic syrup his pediatrician prescribed for him).

Nevertheless, the decision not to air the Buster episode apparently represents the collapse of civilization:

Explaining why the network yanked the show, Lea Sloan, vice president of media relations at PBS, said, "We wanted to make sure that parents had an opportunity to introduce this subject to their children in their own time."

What world are Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and the executives at PBS living in? It seems they think that there is one world where all the families and children live and another, separate one where all those gay people live.

Apparently it's up to (straight) parents to decide when to open the borders and let their children have a controlled peek at the other side.

At this point in American history, that position is not only ridiculous, it's insulting and highly irresponsible. Millions of children have a parent, uncle, aunt, cousin, sibling or grandparent who is gay. Thousands of dedicated teachers, school administrators and coaches are gays or lesbians. What kind of message are we sending to our youth when we say that their loved ones and trusted mentors aren't safe for children to meet on TV?

Yes, there is no one who has it out for the little bastards quite as much as their own (straight) parents.

It may seem odd to Debra Chasnoff, but there are millions of parents who don't need an animated Bunny to act in loco parentis. We're doing our best to turn our rambunctious little ones into respectable, responsible, reasonable adults. Those of us who have gay relatives or friends or neighbors have already crossed this bridge in ways we think our children will understand; those who don't probably don't feel it's much of a priority. As to what kind of a message are we sending, well...

To whom are we sending the message? Certainly not to children -- my six year old regards news programs as anathema, and he doesn't read the Post either--how would he ever hear of the decision? So the message is something that is being sent elsewhere -- namely to gay men and women. Does the featuring of a lesbian couple on Arthur confer some long sought (and too long delayed) acceptance on homosexuals? Probably not. I doubt very much that the gay couple my son knows would care much either way.

There are other reasons to object -- I don't think the government should dictate content to PBS -- but making the argument on the notion that heterosexual parents can't be trusted to raise their own children probably won't persuade too many of us that the end is nigh -- or that we should be losing much sleep over the issue either.

Posted by Ideofact at 01:09 AM | Comments (1)

February 06, 2005

Rats!

I was slightly less G-rated than that as the clock wound down.

Well, there's always next year...

Posted by Ideofact at 10:21 PM | Comments (4)

24-20

Extra point to come... Made...

I remember Richie Ashburn, a Phillies great and later announcer, saying in his cool Nebraskan drawl while watching Mitch Williams try to close out a crucial game in his usual ugly fashion, "I can't believe people are enjoying this."

But we do...

Posted by Ideofact at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

24-14, New England

It's a hell of a lot harder to enjoy a championship game when you're emotionally involved with the team ten points down with less than ten minutes to play. It's time like these that I wonder why sports are so popular.

Oops, got to get back to the game -- don't want to miss the historic Eagles comeback...

Posted by Ideofact at 09:44 PM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2005

Too long

A long week, and one last day to get through after what promises to be another long night. The six year old has been under the weather all week with a nasty bug of some sort -- ear aches, tummy troubles, fevers and chills -- which alters the mood of the whole household. Instead of our morning walk to his bus stop and our evening horseplay and readings of Lemony Snicket (we've just about done with The Austere Academy), it's temperature taking and medicine administering and blanket bundling. Even the cat seems depressed.

I'm looking forward to the weekend -- to watching Battlestar Galactica (yes, I'm still watching it, but I'm deeply disappointed in it; in a recent episode, the powers that be decided it was better to negotiate with terrorists rather than to ask civilians to take some responsibility and risk for their survival -- 'we will shirk every burden'), to renting a good movie (probably the Grudge -- it's been a long time since my wife and I have watched a really scary movie), and hoping, of course, that the six year old is well enough, if not for karate, at least for some wrestling, horseplay and Lemony Snicket...

As for the football game, I am a longtime Eagles fan (and Philadelphia sports fan). I watched the Broad Street Bullies clinch their first Stanley Cup, saw the magical moment when Tug McGraw leapt into the air in 1980 as the Phillies won the series, rejoiced in Dr. J's and Moses Malone's Sixers finally beating the Celtics and the Lakers...yes, nothing would make me happier than seeing the Eagles beat the Patriots. Here is where the big but should appear, but oddly enough, over the last week I've started feeling like the Eagles will end up winning. I don't know why -- New England is a formidable opponent, a well-coached team, the sort of team I would root for if, say, they were playing the Vikings or the Falcons or even the Packers. This is just my totally impressionistic feeling -- worth absolutely nothing (i.e. -- don't bet the house), but I have this vague feeling that this is the Eagles' year. If I'm wrong, well, we'll get 'em next year...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:35 AM | Comments (2)

February 03, 2005

The Spirit of Prague

North Sea Diaries thanks the Czechs for their opposition to tyranny, and adds,

One of the contributions the new member states of the EU offer to the jaded, cynical policy-makers in Brussels is an awareness of tyranny. Four years of Nazism and forty years of Communism does that to people.

This reminded me of an interesting bit from Ivan Klima, a writer whose fictions I quite enjoyed some years ago, but none of which made enough of an impression upon me to recall now. But some of his essays did stick with me -- Klima notes that in Prague in 1948, there was a great deal of popular support for the communists and very little for the democrats. The scars of Munich cut too deep for liberal democracy -- which failed the Czechs and Slovaks (and Jews and the rest of the world) there -- to command much affection from the people. Klima adds,

The demise of totalitarian regimes of the left and of the right over the past few decades might lead us to the erroneous and optimistic conclusion that these regimes were somehow alien to the very essence of human behavior and thinking, that they came into being merely through some oversight of history. In reality, many people unconsciously long for the kind of order and firm-handed government they promised. I have recalled the enthusiasm with which the totalitarian system was established in my country forty years ago, and I still remember the wild excitement that greeted Hitler's accession to power in Germany. The first half of our century demonstrated that totalitarian systems attracted whole societies, entire nations. They achieved their popularity through a combination of utopian visions and demagogic promises, and also by appealing to the ideas the average citizens had about order and a just organization of society. To people trapped in the greyness of everyday life, they offered a great ideal, as well as a charismatic leader who relieved them of the burden of having to decide for themselves, of responsibility and risk, and, moreover, led them towards a goal that gave their lives a meaning. Many aspects of a totalitarian system in its early stages are impressive: its decisiveness, the clarity of its programme, and the energy with which it deals with problems that a democracy, by its very nature, cannot solve in that way. It bans what upsets the average citizen and takes measures that impress him. The regime metes out a portion of what it confiscated or stole during its rise to power; it frightens, locks up or kills those who disagree with it and thus it creates the appearance of unity. At first it seems magically effective, and it reinforces this impact with magnificent and ostentatious celebrations, demonstrations and parades. In its early days, the totalitarian regime seems strong precisely because of the mass support it enjoys and the unity, at least on the surface, that it demonstrates.

Klima, of course, was no totalitarian -- he goes on to note that the totalitarians begin by killing or jailing those who oppose them and end by killing or jailing those who are insufficiently enthusiastic about having the boot on their face. The passage has stuck with me (although obviously not verbatim -- it's from The Spirit of Prague; my copy is a UK galley that's seen better days), and I've thought about it off and on over the last few years whenever I've encountered one of those awkward moments when someone who otherwise seemed little different than I could give voice to a monstrous assertion as if it were perfectly reasonable. Perhaps we have all had those moments, when someone we know socially and have every reason to believe is a perfectly fine fellow suggests that Sept. 11 was after all a justified response to U.S. aggression, or that Jews really do run the U.S. government, or other assorted nonsense. I recall one acquaintance hopefully speculating that the majority of African Americans would identify with Islamists and rise up against their mutual oppressors. There is no point arguing with someone so far gone, but I responded by citing Sayyid Qutb's hostility toward African American culture:

The American is primitive in his artistic tastes, whether in his judgment of art or his own artistic works. Jazz music is his music of choice. It is this music that the savage bushmen created to satisfy their primitive desires, and their desire for noise on the one hand, and the abundance of animal noises on the other. The American's enjoyment of jazz does not full begin until he couples it with singing like crude screaming. And the louder the noise of the voices and instruments, until it rings in the ears to an unbearable degree, the greater the appreciation of the listeners. The voices of appreciation are raised, and palms are raised in continuous clapping that could deafen ears.

This seemed to him to be a minor point; as I said, there is little point in arguing with such people.

We all flatter ourselves, perhaps, when looking back on the past, that had we been alive at this or that moment, we would invariably have been on the right side of history. How could the Germans--any German?--have been so stupid as to support Hitler? Yet when evil confronts us in the present -- when the question is whether you side with a dictator like Stalin or the Democrats who once failed you, whether you side with a cheap gangster like Castro or the dissidents he tortures, many of us -- many of the most educated and privileged among us -- cannot distinguish between good and evil. Or enthusiastically support the wrong side.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:57 PM | Comments (5)

February 02, 2005

Ugh

Well, trackback spam certainly sucks. I got rid of most of it, and the trackbacks are permanently off. I'm not sure which will go first -- the open comments or my desire to keep blogging altogether.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2005

References

There has been so much to write about of late, I haven't much felt like writing anything. I wanted to compare some of Zarqawi's statements about Democracy being evil with those of Qutb (hint: they match pretty closely), but that point was made well here:

But underlying these gripes was an ideology - and remains an ideology - opposed to freedom and democracy. The intellectual founder of Islamism, Sayyid Qutb, wrote in 1957: "In the world there is only one party, the party of Allah; all of the others are parties of Satan and rebellion. Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah; and those who disbelieve fight in the cause of the rebellion."

I was thinking of that when I read this Outlook piece from the Washington Post last Sunday, asking if Islam is compatible with Democracy. (The Post piece doesn't mention Qutb, instead choosing to cast Zarqawi as, well, as...

If President Bush wanted to conjure up someone from central casting to act as a foil to his inauguration call for worldwide freedom, he couldn't ask for a villain more fitting than the terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, who, on the eve of Iraqi elections, denounced democracy as an "evil principle."

I'm not sure what the lede of this article -- written by Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle East studies and international affairs at Sarah Lawrence College -- is supposed to indicate. There is nothing inconsistent in anything Zarqawi is done or is alleged to have done -- the note in which he targets Kurds and Shi'as, the suicide attacks against other Muslims, the denunciation of democracy -- with the Qutbist strain of Islamism. Zarqawi isn't some Washington fantasy made flesh, in other words; it's a little like saying that, say, Joseph Mengele was a Nazi from central casting. On the contrary, he was all too real.

The most disturbing thing about the Post piece to me was this bit:

A small but influential group of Islamic intellectuals is saying that Muslims should see democracy as compatible with Islam. Islamic political parties and movements across North Africa and the Middle East are deciding with greater frequency to take part in elections whenever possible. In the Palestinian Authority balloting, the radical Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, has entered candidates in races for local offices. In Egypt, Islamic political activists are urging President Hosni Mubarak to retire and permit free elections. And in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the revered Shiite cleric, issued an edict saying participation in the balloting today was a "religious duty."

What an odd collection -- Hamas alongside Sistani, and precisely what is an "Islamic political activist"? Is it the same thing as an Islamist political activist? Is, say, Irshad Manji an Islamic political activist? Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali?

Posted by Ideofact at 05:20 PM | Comments (10)