March 28, 2005

Radio silence

...was never my favorite Thomas Dolby tune. I was always partial to Europa and the Pirate Twins for some reason, although the wail he achieved on "One of our Submarines" was sublime, and "Cloudburst on Shingle Street" ended with the wonderful line, "When I was young/I was in love/with everything/but now there's only you."

I haven't felt much like writing lately, and even now typing this feels more like work than like fun (although given that reading what I write probably feels more like work verging on servitude rather than fun, I probably shouldn't complain). I haven't felt like doing much of anything besides reading books and having the usual thrilling sword fights and wrestling matches with the six year old. Well...books. I don't think he's enjoyed anything quite as much as Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I've enjoyed reading to him quite a bit too. For my part, in my few idle moments, I seem to have been drawn of late to works on various aspects of the Holocaust, whether it be the rank and file killers and collectors, the higher ranking bureaucrats or the specialists... I suppose this renewed interest was sparked by a question that Ron Rosenbaum asked in Those Who Forget the Past, which I'll paraphrase more or less: How is one to regard the Holocaust -- to what extent, in what way, should one consider it in formulating policies in the present? I won't go on -- no point in writing about notions I can't quite articulate yet -- but that's been something that's been kicking around in my head for a while.

I've of course been thinking of other things as well -- including trying to figure out why it is that, despite having had the DVD lying around for months now, despite having had ample opportunities (ample being a relative term when you have a six year old) to see it in a theater when it was first out, despite its re-release in a less gory form, I still haven't been able to work up much desire to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. I have a copy of the authentic history on which the film is more or less based (the visions that a German nun, one Anne Catherine Emmerich, experienced some time in the 1820s -- so much for the historical authenticity), and found the book to be fascinating in a weird sort of way. Whereas most mystics who experience visions of the divine have intensely emotional experiences or, in the case of Swedenborg, intensely spiritu-intellectual experiences, Ms. Emmerich noticed the curtains, or a room which had been divided during remodelling, or the like. It's a weird read, and seems oddly devoid of the immediacy of an ecstatic religious vision.

As for the film itself, I think it's the language that likely puts me off, or, as James Bowman, who for me is the most reliable film critic (he dislikes a lot of stuff I like, but, if he likes something, I can be sure I'll love it) put it:

For although much publicity has been given to the fact that the screenplay is in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and Latin, the language of the Roman imperial authorities, much less well known is the fact that it is also in a third language and that is Movieish, the language of the long line of cinematic sufferers that have come before this Jesus and that cannot but distract us from a proper consideration of what is, after all, meant to be a unique event in human history.

Nor is it only the scourging and beating which is written in Hollywoodese. Allusions to other movies range from Chuckie-like child sprites out of mainstream horror flicks to a pale Bergmanian devil with a dramatically gratuitous snake to certify his scriptural authenticity. There is even at one point a computer-animated movie demon like something out of The Devil’s Advocate or The Ninth Gate. This kind of thing I found at least as dislocating to the sense of occasion as if, instead of Latin and Aramaic, the movie had been made in Brooklynese. All of which is simply to say that The Passion of the Christ is like every other Mel Gibson picture in being ridiculously overproduced. As the British would say, he has once again over-egged the pudding. The new age music with pan pipes and wordless choruses, the swelling orchestral sounds at moments of significance, the flashbacks cross cut with the main action so as to produce heavy-handed ironies — all these things take us annoyingly out of the period and plonk us down jarringly in the entertainment culture of the present day.

The whole review is a joy to read. I'll get around to seeing the Passion some day, but not today.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2005

O.T.T.

While googling around, somewhat disinterestedly (I'm waiting for the cat to come home so I can let him in and go to bed) I came across this interesting press release about a study that found that the British Tommies of World War One were more accurately depicted by Rowan Atkinson's excellent series Blackadder Goes Forth:

DPhil student Esther MacCallum-Stewart says the anti-war view of soldier poets such as Owen and Siegfried Sassoon is only a part of the picture. The ordinary "Tommy" was actually pro-war, kept a stiff upper lip and didn't talk about the horrors. He looked instead to morale-boosting humour to deal with the grim realities of life in the trenches and indulged a taste for mockery and the absurd, as employed in the BBC comedy series set in World War One, Blackadder Goes Forth.

"Humour helped to relieve the boredom. Most frontline soldiers spent much of their time out of action behind the lines," says Esther. "Blackadder is subversive without being political. The soldiers of the war would have recognised the stereotyped characters of posh, inept officers and the lower ranks and would have enjoyed the joke of Blackadder and his sidekicks trying to shirk their duties. It wasn't the war they were against, but the way it was fought."

Esther has studied the ways in which World War One has been depicted down the decades, from poetry and songs to films such as Oh! What A Lovely War, and bestselling books such as Birdsong and the Regeneration trilogy. She says that the way we view World War One was skewed by a renewed interest in it during the sixties, when the poems such as Owen's Dulce Et Decorum Est, gained new prominence with the anti-war movement.

Ms. (or is it Dr?) MacCallum-Stewart also has a blog that tracks her Great War research.

The First World War fascinates me, in part because it's not yet over, as I noted on paleo ideofact here, here, here, here, here and here.


Posted by Ideofact at 01:01 AM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2005

No Compassion

I really don't understand the prolonged, sustained effort to murder Terry Schiavo. She has people -- her parents -- willing to care for her. Her husband is apparently the person most determined to kill her, though why his desire for her death supercedes her parent's love is beyond my poor capacity to understand.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:37 PM | Comments (2)

March 17, 2005

Qutbdex 3

...which, logically, deals with the 2 Qutb series, or ideofact's analysis of what may well be Qutb's most influential work, Milestones. Yes, the slightly annotated index to all Sayyid Qutb posts on paleo Ideofact and ideofact continues. Depressingly, all of the links to Milestones are broken as of this writing; maybe I'll fix them later. Milestones has been called by some a sort of Mein Kampf or (perhaps more accurately) Communist Manifesto for Qutb. I prefer to think of it as a "What is to be done?" -- though I have never been certain whether it is the comically bad What is to be done of Nikolai Chernyshevsky or the tragically bad What is to be Done of V.I. Lenin. So, without further ado...

In 2 Qutb I, we learn that curiosity salted the snail. Also, that Qutb has "this new thing" which "cannot be appreciated" unless a "vanguard" of the Islamoteriat emerges, or some such.

2 Qutb 1 contains a regrettable error on my part, but also tells us that only the first generation of Muslims really rocked, the rest are all poseurs because of this damnable, Western induced Jahiliyyah.

2 Qutb 2 is a bit of a waste of time, but does note that even in the time of Prophet, just as in Calvin's Geneva or any other religious community, there are sinners...

2 Qutb 3 suggests a contradiction: if 2 Qutb 2 argues that the central organizing principle of Islam is complete and total submission to God, then how is thatt Qutb can turn around and call for the complete submission to a vanguard that has completely submitted to God?

2 Qutb 4A quotes this bit: "This movement does not confine itself to mere preaching to confront physical power, as it also does not use compulsion for changing the ideas of people." It also quotes this bit: "...[this movement] uses physical power and Jihaad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the Jahili system which prevents people from reforming their ideas and beliefs but forces them to obey their erroneous ways and make them serve human lords instead of the Almighty Lord." Nice to know there's no compulsion involved.

I wrote in 2 Qutb 4a that it's very difficult for me to have anything intelligent to say (a self evident statement if there ever was one) but also point out this gem from Qutb: "What [Islam] wants is to abolish those oppressive political systems under which people are prevented from expressing their freedom to choose whatever beliefs they want, and after that it gives them complete freedom to decide whether they will accept Islam or not."

2 Qutb 5a worries that we might mistakenly worship school board members, dog catchers, members of Congress, township supervisors and presidents.

2 Qutb 5b notes that Qutb's ideas on politics suffer from a disturbing lack of specificity.

2 Qutb 6 notes some hope for humanity. It's mine, not Qutb's...

2 Qutb 7a concerns itself with Bernard Shaw, progressive Islam, and Qutb's rejection of same (despite his fondness for Shaw)...

2 Qutb 7b tells us that a society in which "people are permitted to go to mosques, churches and synagogues" actually "denies or suspends God's sovereignty on earth."

In 2 Qutb 7c, a critique of journalism in the jahiliyya is offered, particularly the idea (which I believe the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer and Wall Street Journal all garnered Pulitzers in the 1950s for arguing) that sex, premarital sex, sex, infidelity, sex, more sex, extra sex, casual sex, sex out of wedlock, and -- did I mention sex? -- should be encouraged.

2 Qutb 7d further explores Qutb's obsession with sex, premarital sex, sexy sex, sex cetera...

2 Qutb 7e tries to wrap up the seventh chapter of Milestones with a few quotes I found interesting....

...but 2 Qutb 7f offers the most interesting quote:

This movement, from the moment of its inception until the growth and permanent existence of its society comes about, tests every individual and assigns him a position of responsibility according to his capacity, as measured by the Islamic balance and standards. The society automatically recognizes his capabilities, and he does not need to come forward and announce his candidacy; in fact, his belief and the values to which he and his society subscribe compel him to keep himself concealed from the eyes of those who want to give him a responsible position.

...suggesting to me a not uninteresting fiction: Perhaps Egypt in the 1950s, the Egypt Qutb railed against, was in fact the ideal Islamic community, and Qutb's position of responsibility (prisoner, ranter) perfectly matched his capacity...

2 Qutb 8a is devoted to the themes of art, literature, classical music, poetry, and other tricks concocted by World Jewry, LLP.

2 Qutb 8b demonstrates Qutb's scientific acumen, particularly his notion that some questions cannot be asked.

2 Qutb 8c was a bit of a stinker, not my best work, but it does tell us that in "principles of economics and political affairs and interpretation of historical processes" only a Muslim is worthy of consultation.

2 Qutb 8d notes strange disparities between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sayyid Qutb.

In 2 Qutb 8e, we learn that the decision to hold the scientific and industrial revolutions, the enlightenment, and even the Protestant reformation in Europe was a regrettable scheduling mistake (and they were pretty much stolen from Islam anyway...).

2 Qutb 8 note offers some intelligent analysis (hint: I didn't write it).

2 Qutb 9 (too) briefly suggests that the chapter was designed to appeal (psychologically) to younger Muslims; I recall that when reading it you could almost count the beats until the next manipulative passage designed to stoke the would be jihadi.

In 2 Qutb 10a, apparent inconsistencies in his thought are noted.

2 Qutb 10b is about the odd contrast implicit in much of Qutb's thought, but explicit here: that human desire invariably is at odds with Islam.

In 2 Qutb 10c, we find a confession of a lack of good manners.

2 Qutb 11a returns to the theme of the psychological impact of Qutb's statements, particularly suggestions that a believer should be "above all the powers of the earth which have deviated from the way of the Faith, above all the values of the earth not derived from the source of the Faith, above all the customs of the earth not colored with the coloring of the Faith, above all the laws of the laws of the earth not sanctioned by the Faith, and above all traditions not originating in the Faith." I imagine Mohammad Atta was feeling something similar as the World Trade Center came into view...

2 Qutb 11b continues this theme; Qutb writes, "Even if death is his portion, he will never bow his head. Death comes to all, but for him there is martyrdom."

Unable to restrain my crusader blood, in 2 Qutb 12, I point out that Qutb was merely a Christian heretic; hopefully, the idea that I regret not having had the chance to run my sword through him personally is implicit in the post.

Ugh. and that's it for Milestons. More later...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:17 PM | Comments (6)

March 16, 2005

Dreams in cold storage

Slowly but surely, I've been loading various albums I've bought over the years (which I had previously bought as LPs, cassettes and CDs) into iTunes. Tonight, it's Gary Numan's turn.

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I've always thought Numan was underrated. Sure, he was in some ways the definitive, if not particularly exact, Bowie clone, in other ways the less pop version of Human League and Ultravox and Heaven 17, in still other ways, the ugly duckling (and he has one of the worst voices of any pop star I can think of). But neither can I think of too many artists who have written a line quite as useful as this one, spoken to a woman with whom one has a history: "All the things I can say are the reasons I can't." Nor can I think of one who was quite so innovative -- Numan's Dance LP is, in my very humbe opinion, the most interesting and challenging pop album to come out in the entire decade of the 1980s.

There is a shallowness to much of what Gary Numan did, but I hardly think he's as shallow as, say, Adam Ant (who may well be next on my list of '80s pop stars to be iTunized). And some of his Numan's songs actually resonate (at least with me) years later.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:59 PM | Comments (5)

March 11, 2005

Qutbdex 2

The slightly annotated index to all Sayyid Qutb posts on paleo Ideofact and ideofact continues. I wrote a number of posts on paleo ideofact that deal with different aspects of Qutb's work; here they are in more or less chronological order. I should note that not every post is indexed -- some that mentioned Qutb did so tangentially, others merely repeated things from the Social Justice in Islam series.

Conjecture notes the tendency in Qutb to identify authentic Christianity as either the Manichean or, more often, the Arian heresy.

Fantasy has more to do with al Qaeda than with Qutb, and takes issue with a Lee Harris essay by pointing out that al Qaeda's tactics, though misguided, were part of what its leaders believed to be a winning strategy.

The first Qutbdate quoted from an interesting essay about Qutb.

Here we learn that the Arab News thinks it's okay if I criticize Qutb, provided I'm sincere. I was flip in the entry, but I shouldn't be, because the suggestion seems to be that Qutb is sort of sanctified, or something...

In Assimilation and enrichment, I speculate that Qutb might not have donated to public television pledge drives.

In Miscellany, I contrast two views of the Qur'an (one of which was Qutb's).

Lewis' Crisis has absolutely nothing to do with Qutb, and doesn't belong here at all. But it was on a subject -- the spread of naval technology -- that I find fascinating.

Qutb and the Temple of Love contrasts my own experience of the Church mixer, and Qutb's condemnation of it. To be honest, I went to after hours dance clubs that were more chaste than Qutb's church mixer...

Reading looks at Paul Berman's take on Qutb.

Total Qutb is not one of my better posts -- I got lazy at the beginning, and it carried all the way through to the end.

Terror and Liberalism is very brief, but notes Qutb's totalitarian instinct.

False consciousness alludes to a similarity between the godfather of Arab nationalism, Abu Khaldun Sati' al-Husri, and Sayyid Qutb; can't remember if I expanded on this theme...

A note on the Caliphate notes something that sounds like a separation of mosque and state in the thirteenth century.

This Qutbdate, from June 26, 2003, notes that Sayyid Qutb already seemed to be a quaintly bookish preoccupation, at least as far as the war on terror was concerned: our allies are the Muslims of the Middle East, our enemies and theirs are the same: the tyrants.

More later...

Posted by Ideofact at 10:07 PM | Comments (1)

Fe-mall?

Cathy Seipp writes of the consolidation of department stores, and offers some memories of what these stores once were. I remember as a kid what a treat it was to go to the Wannamaker's in Philadelphia with my mom, and how my brother and I would suffer through trying on innumerable Sunday suits or try to hold our noses in the perfume department all the while remaining on our best behavior for the trip to the ninth floor -- where the toy department was.

I have noted in Northern Virginia, of late, that it's not just the department stores that have given up on toys. I know this is in some measure a function of economics, the effect of mega retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Toys-R-Us, but I'm amazed that on those rare occasions when the whole family goes to the mall together, there's almost nothing for the six year old -- or his only slightly less mature father -- to look at. I think malls always tended to cater more to women shoppers, but I would have put the ratio at, oh, I don't know -- 40-35-25 -- for the percentage of shops catering to women, to both sexes, and to men, respectively. Now I'd guess it's 55-30-15 at the two malls that are closest to us, neither of which, by the way, has anything resembling a toy store or a store with a toy department. It occurs to me, however, that I don't spend all that much time in malls, while my wife enjoys going quite a bit, which may well suggest that the ratio actually makes sense.

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

March 10, 2005

Presumption

Apparently, the neo-Nazi wasn't involved in the murder of a federal judge's family members. New Jersey authorities arrested two men for the mrders of a family of Coptic Christians -- the motive was not religious strife, but rather covering up a robbery gone wrong. Belgian authorities ruled out anti-Semitism in the killing of Moshe Na’eh in Antwerp, in what at first looked like, well, a murder driven by anti-Semitism.

None of this is to say that neo-Nazis aren't beneath contempt (they are), that religious strife does not exist among immigrant Egyptian Coptic and Muslim communities (it does, just as it does in Egypt), or that anti-Semitism isn't real (all too real, regrettably).

As I follow some of the twists and turns of and reactions to the Michael Jackson case (I haven't been following it especially closely), I can't help thinking that Jackson, who seems to have fairly serious psychological problems, is more than likely not guilty of the crimes of which he has been accused. I do not mean to say, of course, that I would allow my son to spend the night at his ranch -- as a parent I would not trust him, period. (Parents, of course, require a much lower standard of proof to say no.) I do not mean to say that a child spending time in Jackson's presence is a harmless thing (most likely the contrary). I'm just not persuaded that, however Jackson and his weird lifestyle negatively impacts children, that sexual molestation is one of the ways. It seems to me that if this were the case, far more people would have come forward. It is too hard to believe that Jackson is guilty of this in only one (or two, if one counts the prior accusation) case, or, barring that, that he would be able to buy the silence of what may well be dozens or hundreds of parents over the years.

I speak from no particular authority -- of course, it's likely that I may be entirely wrong, that the presumption of guilt is well founded in this case. But right now, I'm not convinced. I should probably add that while I find some of his music innocuous enough, I'm not especially fond of his music...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:53 PM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2005

Qutbdex 1

I've been asked for this before, and generally left it to others to keep track, but, what the hell, I wanted to look over this anyway -- so here's the beginnings of a slightly annotated index to all Sayyid Qutb posts on paleo Ideofact and ideofact.

The first work I looked at was Social Justice in Islam. The posts (in order):

Qutb 1 critiques Qutb's rather simplistic view of history, particularly his notion that the West advanced technologically and scientifically only by abandoning Christianity, a faith which, he says, demands that its followers despise this world;

Qutb 2 notes his rejection of Muslim philosophers like Averroes and Avicenna as being inauthentically Muslim, and also notes a certain vagueness in Qutb's thinking;

Qutb 2 Cont. notes that "Everything that is not legally forbidden is perfectly permissible."

Qutb 3:1 looks at chapter three. Not a lot of analysis here.

Qutb 3:2 quotes that women working "is a form of slavery and servitude in an atmosphere of the smoke of incense and opium," while noting that Qutb also says that for fourteen centuries Islam has granted women the right to work and the right to earn.

Qutb 3:3 points out, among other things, this passage, in which Qutb argues that actually believing in equality destroys society and the individual:

Such freedom he might be led to expect by his belief in the absolute equality that exists between himself and all other individuals, in respect of all his privileges; but such an expectation is responsible for the destruction not only of society, but also of the individual himself.

In Qutb 4, we read, "As 'Uthmann ibn 'Affan said: 'Allah restrains man more by means of the ruler than by means of the Qur'an.'"

Qutb 5 displays my regrettable tendency to wander off topic, and also Qutb's regrettable recourse to compulsion in religion: "There can be no permanent system in human life until this integration and unification has taken place; this step is a prerequisite for true and complete human life, even justifying the use of force against those who deviate from it, so that those who have wandered from the true path may be brought back to it." (emphasis added)

Qutb 6 is about economics, or perhaps Qutbonomics is a better term, which I describe as a prescription for poverty.

Qutb 7:1 was actually quite interesting for me to reread, and deals with adultery and stoning, Qutb's insistence on death and the unreliability of certain Hadith, and finally, some common sense from a Muslim posting on a BBC forum.

Qutb 7:2 turns from sex to war, and Qutb explains that "Three possibilities are placed before the people of a conquered country, one of which everyone must choose -- Islam, the poll tax, or war." Given those choices, I think I'd take door number three, Sayyid...

Qutb 7:3 notes, I think for the first time, that Islam, for Qutb, is a "tempermental flower that will wilt if subjected to the slightest breeze."

Qutb 7:4 (hey, shut up already!) notes that Western civilization "is a civilization founded on pure materialism, a civilization of murder and war, of conquest and of subjugation," and little (nothing) else...

Qutb 7:5 is about the lack of efficiency of making the caliph the primary milk maids of the caliphate.

Qutb 7:6 is sort of silly, but does point out principles like "it's not so great if your next door neighbor starves to death." Still, it probably could be skipped...

Qutb 8:1 notes his views on the fragility of Islam.

In Qutb 8:2, the disaster of, for example, Persians converting to Islam is quoted.

Qutb 8:3 contains information on Mongols, Stephen Schwartz and Ghazan Khan, all of whom fare better than Ibn Tamiyyah and Qutb.

Qutb 8:4 provides us with the important information that crusading is in the blood.

Qutb 8:5 notes that he believes "the wide powers entrusted to the head of state -- all these are living methods of ensuring growth through development and adaptation, in order to keep pace with life and to meet its needs as they emerge." Dictatorships are so much more responsive to the people's needs, after all.

In Qutb 8:4:1, the lack of nuances in Qutb's thought are noted, particularly regarding variations in Islamic belief.

Qutb 8:6 finds surprising similarities between Qutb's economic and political ideas and those of totalitarian Europe.

In Qutb 9, we learn that Austin Powers' instincts on being unfrozen, and told the Cold War was over, were correct: "Well! Finally those capitalistic pigs will pay for their crimes, eh? Eh comrades? Eh?"

I'll continue the index later...


Posted by Ideofact at 11:30 PM | Comments (1)

March 08, 2005

More Ibbur

Mitch H. of the always interesting Blogfonte suggested that the spam I've been quoting is "some sort of viral package, which pads itself with random text blocks harvested from MS Word documents found on the victim's machine, in an attempt to defeat Boolean spam filters." He's probably right -- that would explain why some of the "Ibbur" emails (so-called, by me at least, because the word "Ibbur" appears in the subject line, and sometimes somewhere in the text) deal with the curious story of Ash, murdered for reasons of metempsychosis or some such. The latest Ibbur doesn't mention Ash by name, but seems to continue the story.

Police investigation led by Lt. Jacoby at a dead end. Assuming, given the number of photographs, that there were too many potential enemies, Jacoby took a different tack, and has been questioning Museum of Victorian Morality employees about an old octavo volume, wrapped first in wax paper, then with plain brown shipping paper, and tied with twine. The title, author and subject of book are presently unknown, as is its location, as its existence.

Story by journalist C.K. suggested that a book was key to killing. C.K. described book as quarto volume; ornate cover with gold leaf lettering. Because of this sensationalist description, C.K.'s editor spiked the story.

Bizarre -- perhaps an outline for a work of fiction? I can't tell, but it sure beats the online pharmacy, business supply, discount software and "I have contacted you to assist in repatriating the fund valued at US$44 million left behind by my late client" spam I normally get.

By the way, I think I'm reasonably well protected from any harm ibbur might be spreading -- one of the unspoken benefits of having an Apple is that most viruses are geared to attack Windows machines. I still have anti-viral protection of course, and I never open emails with attachments from strangers...

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

March 07, 2005

A brother's keeper

Interesting piece in the Washington Post today on the thinking of Gamal Banna, the younger (and perhaps smarter) brother of Hassan--the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood:

The notion of an Islamic state, Banna contends with a laugh, contradicts the foundation of Islam as a community of believers. The use of old Islamic teaching to justify the rule of kings and dictators has made Muslims submissive as well as exclusionary toward women, he added.

The recent focus on jihad as a justification for violent means of change also departs from the emphasis in the Koran on jihad as a moral struggle, Banna asserts. In that vein, bin Laden is using the concept "to give a religious covering to a political struggle."

The whole article is of interest, as is Gamal's take on what his brother Hassan would think of him were he still alive:

He insisted that despite efforts to contrast him with Hassan, his brother's thinking would have evolved over time. "He wrote 50 years ago. He would agree with me now, if he had lived," he said. Hassan Banna, who had founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, was killed by Egyptian secret police in 1949 in retaliation for the Brotherhood's assassination of Prime Minister Mahmoud Fahmi Nuqrashi.

Maybe Gamal is right, I don't know -- perhaps, had he lived long enough, Sayyid Qutb would be an enthusiastic supporter of Iraqi democracy...


Posted by Ideofact at 10:35 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2005

Praying to the aliens

Just a quick observation -- Mark Steyn, who brings more verve to opinion writing than anyone I can think of (and I say this though I as often as not disagree with him) offered a rather gloomy forecast for the future of Europe. I think he's wrong. Steyn wrote:

...Europe will be almost wholly dependent on the Muslim world for immigration - and one of the features of super-tolerant anything-goes post-Christian Europe is that it radicalises hitherto moderate Muslims. Look at the number of Islamist terrorists who are creatures of the Euro-Canadian welfare systems - Richard Reid the shoe bomber, Zac Moussaoui, Ahmed Ressam, even Mohammed Atta’s political character was formed in large part by his time in Germany. A senior Dutch cabinet minister told me in 2003 that what really scared him was that young Dutch Muslims were more Islamist and less assimilated than the grandparents who’d arrived in the early Seventies.

There are two likely longterm outcomes of all this:

a) Europe will simply become Muslim, as is already happening in secondary Scandinavian and Benelux cities;

b) New opportunist political movements will take advantage of the situation and of the silence of the centre-left EU political establishment, as is already happening in France, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Germany, Denmark. Europeans will see their declining economic fortunes, increasing crime, unaffordable welfare systems, etc, within the context of their demographic transformation, and some will react in the traditional European way - ie, violence, massive destabilisation, etc. Will this work in the long run? I doubt it. Like the “Take Back Vermont” campaign of five years ago, once you’re talking about taking it back you’ve already lost it.

One of the first posts on paleo Ideofact (incidentally, I didn't remark it at the time, but I've passed another anniversary) dealt with a passage from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel:

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, describes a similar book, in a conversation at the home of Pat’s namesake, Tom Buchanan:

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Coloured Empires’ by this man Goddard?”

“Why no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.

“Well, it’s a fine book and everyone ought to read it. The idea is that if we don’t look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

“Tom’s getting very profound,” Daisy said with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we—"

“Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”

“We’ve got to beat them down,” whispered Daisy, winking ferociously at the fervent sun.

“You ought to live in California—" began Ms. Baker but Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.

“This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am and you are and you are and—" After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod and she winked at me again, “—and we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization—oh, science and art and all that. Do you see?”

Fitzgerald didn’t invent Goddard; in 1920 Scribner’s (Fitzgerald’s publisher) issued a book called The Rising Tide of Color by a Harvard professor named Lothrop Stoddard. Like Buchanan, Stoddard looks to demography when issuing his clarion call:

Such is the ethnic make-up of that world of color which, as already seen, outnumbers the white world two to one. That is a formidable ratio, and its significance is heightened by the fact that this ratio seems destined to shift still further in favor of color. There can be no doubt that at present the colored races are increasing very much faster than the white. Treating the primary race-stocks as units, it would appear that whites tend to double in eighty years, yellows and browns in sixty years, blacks in forty years. The whites are thus the slowest breeders, and they will undoubtedly become slower still, since section after section of the white race is revealing that lowered birth rate which in France has reached the extreme of a stationary population.

I noted at the time that Stoddard was apoplectic about the Japanese, who, his demographic calculations showed, were going to take over the world. Isn't it strange how times change? Much as I loved Gary Numan, I have to say I can imagine living any other way.

If you're a Muslim Arab immigrant, and you have a choice of Free Iraq or Free France, which do you choose? Free Lebanon or free Luxemborg? Free Egypt or free Germany? We're not there yet, but we may well be within the next two or three or five or ten years. What happens to European immigration then? Well, maybe those Japanese hordes Stoddard was so worried about will materialize...


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

Lustrous

Today I took the six year old for long walk on a nature trail; when we got to the midway point (a beautiful spot overlooking the Potomac; we had lunch there and are pretty sure we saw a bald eagle), over potato chips and lemonade, he informed me that he sometimes feels like he's "lost some luster" since he turned six. Where he got the phrase, I have no idea; he seemed to understand it, although perhaps "having lost the first blush of youth" was closer to his meaning -- he is, after all, six, and is expected to know how to read and know addition and subtraction and soon the dreaded times tables, and, after all, what could be more world weary than a six year old. Ten minutes later, he was giggling uncontrollably over some mild bathroom humor, but I couldn't help thinking that in a mere seven years he'll be a (gasp) teenager, and the poeto-comic genius of a phrase like "pee tree" might not be enough to counter the horrible angst of having lost his luster...

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

March 03, 2005

Panaceas?

Parapundit has a rather sobering post, quoting from this essay by Robert Conquest -- one of the sharper thinkers about and intellectual opponents of totalitarian government -- on the limits of democracy, which requires civic institutions, a culture of tolerance, etc. etc. to succeed -- that merely holding elections does not a democracy make (and indeed, no one in his right mind would think so). Parapundit doesn't quote it, but I wonder if this paragraph is the one that most resonated with him:

What we can hope for and work for is the emergence, in former rogue or ideomaniac states, of a beginning, a minimum. The new orders must be non-militant, non-expansionist, non-fanatical. And that goes with, or tends to go with, some level of internal tolerance, of plural order, with some real prospect of settling into habit or tradition.

The second half of that sounds, actually, rather like what is going on in Afghanistan -- although the thing Conquest seems to miss is that the "some level of internal tolerance, of plural order, with some real prospect of settling into habit or tradition" is not incompatible with nascent representative structures. And some of those, of course, can rely on the best aspects of both traditional culture even religion.

I don't know how often I have written it -- probably not often enough -- but I generally am of the opinion that Islam offers a good basis upon which to build a new, democratic Middle East. (Incidentally, this book, The Islamic Paradox, by Reuel Marc Gerecht, advances the rather odd thesis that it's not moderate Muslims but the more militant believers who are most likely to play the key role in this. I haven't read his book, and I'm not sure I'm going to get around to it anytime soon, but I came across it the other day and wanted to point it out.)

Now, to reiterate, there are democratic forms short of a fully functioning republic that can act as a bridge to representative government. Obviously a lot can go wrong, but I'm always willing to gamble on the people. That also means trusting the people, and assuming that, incredible as it may seem, not everyone everywhere will see things exactly as I do.

As I think I've also noted in the comments here on several occasions, I wouldn't expect a democratic government that's representative of a predominantly Muslim society to look precisely like ours -- that it would put, for example, legalizing gay marriage or railing against exposed breasts at sporting events at the top of its agenda. My hunch is that the first order of business would be dealing with the endemic corruption of the old regimes -- corruption that is, I would guess, among the main reasons for the economic stagnation in the region. It's worth noting that Islam is particularly tough on this sort of thing -- the ideals of the faith (which of course can be very different from practice, but let's leave that aside for the moment) preclude rulers from, say, enriching themselves while their people starve. Economic revitalization of the countries of the Middle East (which I believe ranks behind even Africa in terms of GDP growth). Forgive me for being so materialist here (although I don't think there's any reason to apologize) but if Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Arabians who for the next few years at most live under the Saudi boot, Iraqis et al begin to believe that their children will have a better life than they, that their labors are rewarded, that their voices are heard, then the institutions that preserve that sort of prosperity will supported and defended. The question is, do we really believe that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (however an individual defines it) are best achieved in democratic systems, and if so, will people risk their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to defend it? My hunch, as always, regardless of culture, is yes.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:59 PM | Comments (4)

March 02, 2005

Across the pond

North Sea Diaries, a really invaluable blog, offers two examples of what I believe is called Europe's soft power (and soft it is), along with the hard case of the limits of international law -- I don't know the answer either, but I strongly recommend exposure and as much ridicule directed at President Niyazov of Turkmenistan as possible -- preferably coming from the capitals of Europe and North America.

By the way, J. Cassian, nee Cinderella Bloggerfeller, once ran a blog devoted to Niyazov -- The Blogmenbashi.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:03 PM | Comments (3)

March 01, 2005

How odd III

Incredible as it is to say, I am actually overjoyed that Battlestar Galactica will get a second season. I guess, oddly enough, I would recommend the series, although I tend to think one can only appreciate it if one begins at the beginning. Yes, it has its shortcomings (some of which are enforced on it by the demands of a television series -- characters who have no business surviving their predicaments survive; commanders who have no business risking the entire fleet for one life get away with it; one is reminded of Miss Prism's comment from Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest: "The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means."

Still, I find the series a lot of fun -- best not to let one's intellect get in the way of one's pleasure.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)