Monday, April 30, 2007

Jacques Sandulescu

with Choi Yeong-Eui (최영의)
aka Masutatsu Oyama (大山倍達)

Yesterday, I finished reading Jacques Sandulescu's Donbas: A True Story of an Escape Across Russia, a man and a book first made known to me by his wife, Annie Gottlieb, via her blog. Three things struck me in reading the book.

First, I was impressed by the young Sandulescu's will to stay alive under conditions that killed many others. Imprisoned as a 16-year-old worker in one of Stalin's slave-labor camps in the Donbas coal mining region of what is now eastern Ukraine, Sandulescu survived for two and one-half years through his youthful vigor and high intelligence. He learned enough Russian to speak it well and understand it perfectly, and that helped him, especially toward the end, when he was forced to escape under the worst possible conditions, as a severely injured man during the Russian winter.

Sandulescu had been buried under a cave-in that had covered him for over four hours. Somehow, he had survived, managing to breathe well-enough the entire time and even emerging without broken bones after being dug out. But the muscles of his legs had been injured, and -- though he does not specifically say this -- the blood must have been cut off long enough to leave some parts necrotic. Here is his own description of how his legs looked at their worst (and stop here if you have a weak stomach):
In the evening the pain was at its worst, eating me up, burning my insides out. I looked at my right ankle and realized that the color was a darker red than it had been before. I wondered how it had managed to grow so much. It looked larger than my waist. I stared at it, fascinated. I became cold and then hot, but I kept staring at my ankle. Just above the joint of the ankle I saw something like a blister growing, but I couldn't understand what it was. I stared at it harder than before. It was slowly growing larger. I thought that I was going crazy. Involuntarily my big toe twitched, and the blister slowly burst open. Then I twitched my big toe again, and the pus came gushing out. It was a yellow, greenish-blue color and smelled putrid. The pressure eased, but I stared at my leg unbelievingly. (page 169)
The pain eased, too, at first, but then a number of holes opened in his legs, and the doctor who showed up to look at Sandulescu's condition wasn't pleased at what he saw:
A day or so later, the doctor appeared again, and when he saw my legs he grumbled, looked at the sores, and then smelled them. I heard him say something to the nurses about amputation. I froze inside. He left, saying that the next time he stopped by he would bring along the necessary instruments and they would see then. (page 172)
Unwilling to risk having his legs cut off, Sandulescu found an opportunity 48 hours later and escaped to a coal train, where -- without food or water and severely injured -- he rode toward the west, the direction of freedom.

And this leads me to the second thing that impressed me, the kindness of ordinary Russians. Even in the mines of the Donbas, Russians had helped him, going so far as to invite him into their homes for meals though they themselves had little food of their own. Now that he was making his escape, Russian strangers helped him. Not even one threatened to turn him in. One of his first encounters after he fled from the likely amputation was in a blacksmith shop where he had taken refuge from the cold and fallen asleep:
When I awoke, two Russians were leaning over me. From the questioning looks on their faces I knew that they wanted an explanation: who was I and what was I doing there?

I sat up, wondering what I should tell them. The best chance I had was to arouse their pity. I started telling them that I was a Romanian who had been a very good worker in the Donbas. But a mine cave-in had injured my legs, and the doctors, instead of trying to save them, were going to amputate. I said that if someone my age lost his legs, it would make him a pretty useless worker, and I had decided to save them myself.

They pondered this story awhile and then asked to see my legs. I untied my mine pants and then the white pants from the hospital and started to unwrap the bandages. While I was doing this, I forgot that my legs would be in a terrible condition. The sight of the pus-soaked bandages was unbelievable, and the smell was repulsive. It didn't smell too bad to me, because I was used to it, but they were not. They looked at me, and I saw nothing but pity in their eyes. (pages 177-178)
They hid him, fed him, and advised him on which coal train to catch out of Russia.

The third thing that impressed me was simply how extraordinarily lucky Sandulescu was. Out of the blue -- or, rather, out of the darkness -- he knocked at the door of a house in the Polish city of Brest-Litovsk:
I went up to the door and knocked lightly. My knock was answered by a rough voice, which was speaking not in Russian but in Polish. I answered in Russian, saying, "Please let me in. I am a Romanian." I heard a stealthy shuffle and the door opened. It was a bald-headed man in his fifties. He beckoned for me to come in and close the door. (page 188)
The man asked for Sandulescu's story and listened as he prepared a pot of soup on the stove:
I began to tell him everything that had happened to me. While I was talking, he put a pot on the stove. As it warmed he stirred it several times so that whatever was in it wouldn't burn. When I mentioned that I hadn't thought it possible to survive in the open coal cars, he just crossed himself and said:

"If you had God's help and were strong and tough enough to emerge alive from such a train ride, it is God's will that you will escape successfully." Evidently he was strongly religious. (page 189)
The man feeds him well and advises him on the best means of escaping further. Another kindness from a stranger, and great luck -- or was the Polish man right, that God was helping Sandulescu?

If so, then God must have been looking for the right man to fight as a professional boxer in Canada, open literary cafés and jazz bars in New York City's Greenwich Village, and become an advisor to the worldwide Kyokushin Karate organization, among other things (such as acting bit parts in movies, television, and commercials), for Sandulescu went on to do all these things.

I strongly recommend the book.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

"and the greatest of these is love"

Twin Towers Cross

My Uncle Leon Ferguson, who died about five years ago, fought in the Korean War. So did my scoutmaster, Mr. Holland, who still attends meetings of the "Chosin Few," unless he too has passed on. Mr. Holland spoke to me about the Americans having to remove their dead during retreat by using dynamite to blast them out of the frozen ground.

Once, after my scoutmaster had told me something about his experience in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, I asked my Uncle Leon if he had fought there. He looked at me for a moment, then acknowledged that he had, and he spoke briefly about how horrible the war was and that a lot of young friends of his had lost their lives because of poor decisions by their commanding officers. But he didn't specify.

Later, my grandmother told me that what Leon had said to me that day was the most that he'd ever said to anyone about the war. His wife, my maternal aunt, told us that when Leon had returned from the war, he had told her never to ask him about it because he simply didn't want to talk about it.

For years, he practiced conservation by taking his baths in merely an inch or two of water because he hated to waste a resource that had been so hard to get during battle.

My 8th-grade science teacher, Coy Ferguson, told about getting so thirsty during a campaign in the Korean War that he finally forced himself to drink water from a spot in a creek downstream from where a dead mule lay rotting in the water. No other spot safe from sniper fire was available to him.

That war left a traumatic impression upon everyone, it seems, but those who tell the stories are the ones who survived, and such stories always leave us with the belief that we could also survive.

I'm currently reading Jacques Sandulescu's Donbas: A True Story of an Escape Across Russia, which tells the story of how he survived and escaped one of Stalin's slave-labor camps even though he was no more than 18 or 19.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I'd ordered the book, so anyone interested can read more about it there and also find some links to excerpts from that book and other fascinating tales from Sandulescu's life.

He's still alive and lovingly cared for by his wife, Annie Gottlieb, who calls herself "Amba" online and maintains her own blog -- in which, Sandulescu looms large even in the late winter of his long life.

Yesterday, I read Amba's words about those who do not survive -- and that, ultimately, includes all of us. She had just watched United 93 and was still moved from the experience. She notes several things about it that she liked, such as "the modesty of the movie[, which] didn't mythologize the characters," the "casual chatter of all the passengers and crew at the beginning[, which] was anchored by the unawakened assumption that their lives would go on," the anonymity of "Let's roll," which "was made a throwaway line," but most of all, I gather, she liked this:
I liked that while the terrorists' mantra was all Allah all the time, the passengers' was "I love you." That says so much more than I even want to comment on. That was the prayer we sent to the skies on September 11, and I say it speaks well of us.
Note how subtly Amba weaves in an allusion to the Muslim Shahadah in her words "all Allah all," which recall "la ilaha illa Allah" (لا إله إلاَّ الله, "no god but Allah"). While the terrorists were praying for their own souls and the courage to kill others by killing themselves, we were offering up prayers of love for those who were going to die.

I think of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, especially verse 13:
νυνι δε μενει πιστις ελπις αγαπη τα τρια ταυτα μειζων δε τουτων η αγαπη (Greek New Testament, Westcott-Hort edition of 1881)

But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (American Standard Version)
The terrorists may have had their faith and their hope, but on that day, we had love.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Al Qaeda operative in U.S. custody"

aka Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi
(Image from Wikipedia)

Or so states the headline of a Yahoo! News blurb (Reuters) that I've just read early this morning.

Okay, what about him? This:
An Iraqi al Qaeda member accused of assassination plots against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and other attacks was transferred by the CIA to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo this week, the Pentagon said on Friday.
Sounds like a big fish. Has he done anything else? Does he have a name?
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was also accused of commanding al Qaeda's paramilitary operations in Afghanistan and launching attacks on U.S. and coalition forces from Pakistan, the Defense Department said.
Okay, he's done some big stuff. And he has two names. If correct, then he would know about al Qaeda's paramilitary tactics, among other things. What other things? These:
With al-Hadi, the Pentagon is now holding 15 men it considers "high-value detainees" -- a classification that indicates U.S. officials believe the capture had a significant effect on al Qaeda operations and the prisoner is capable of providing high-quality intelligence.
High-quality intelligence? More than tactics? Strategy perhaps? Or the inner workings of al Qaeda?
According to a U.S. government summary on al-Hadi, the detainee was "known and trusted" by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Inner workings, at the very least. But don't we already know a lot about al Qaeda's tactics, strategy, and inner workings? What I find most revealing about this man al-Hadi -- elsewhere known as al-Iraqi -- is how smart he is. A Newsweek article from last year, "Terror Broker" (Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau, April 2006) informs us about al-Hadi al-Iraqi:
Born in Iraqi Kurdistan about 1960, he rose to the rank of major in Saddam Hussein's Army before joining the jihad in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. He speaks not only Arabic but Urdu, Kurdish, the Waziri tribal dialect of Pashtu and a courtly form of Persian. In the palatial salons of the gulf states he has raised millions of dollars for Al Qaeda. But dressed for the part he can easily pass for a mountain tribesman. "He's just like any Afghan," says Zabihullah[, an Afghan who acts as a liaison between the Taliban and Al Qaeda]. "He doesn't have the arrogance and formality of other Arabs."
So, who is this guy? Wikipedia identifies him as Nashwan Abdulrazaq Abdulbaqi (نشوان عبد الرزاق عبد الباقي). The Wikipedia article links to a US wanted poster, which add this to what we know:
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi is one of Usama bin Laden's top global deputies, personally chosen by bin Laden to monitor al Qaeda operations in Iraq. Al-Hadi was the former Internal Operations Chief for al Qaeda. He has been associated with numerous attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been known to facilitate communication between al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda. Al-Hadi rose to the rank of Major in Saddam Hussein's army before moving to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union. He has a reputation for being a skilled, intelligent, and experienced commander and is an extremely well-respected al Qaeda leader. He has commanded numerous terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Al-Hadi is reportedly still in contact with Usama bin Laden.
Neither Wikipedia nor the Newsweek article clarify whether al-Hadi is Arab or Kurd, but since Zabihullah remarks that al-Hadi "doesn't have the arrogance and formality of other Arabs," then I'm assuming that he is an Arab who grew up bilingual among Kurds, which may partly account for his fluency in the Indo-Iranian languages Urdu, Pashto, and Persian.

That al Qaeda and Islamists generally are able to draw such brilliant men as al-Hadi, Abu Musab al-Suri, and Abu Bakr Naji suggests that a body count of big fish captured should not lull us into thinking that we're winning the struggle against Islamism. Rather, it should focus our minds on some stubborn facts. The Muslim world accounts for at least one billion individuals, and some studies show that up to 10 percent or more strongly sympathize with Islamism. If we assume that for the most part, women are not involved, then the 5 percent of Islamist sympathizers means that at least 50 million Muslim men might be willing to join the jihad. From that 50 million can be drawn many very highly intelligent individuals. Assume that 1 percent are "very highly intelligent." This would mean that at least 50,000 very highly intelligent men are potential recruits for Islamist jihad.

Of course, this is speculative, but whether the number is higher or lower, it still represents an enormous pool of highly intelligent, potential leaders for Islamism. Such statistics imply that the battle cannot succeed if we imagine it restricted to the battlefield. More importantly, the battle is an ideological one that will require non-Muslims to learn a lot about Islam. The intelligent tend to respect intelligence, and if non-Muslims know their Islamic sources, then they will gain insight into dealing with intelligent Islamists and perhaps learn how to dry up that pool.

As Marc Sageman concludes in "Understanding Terror Networks" (E-Notes, FPRI, November 1, 2004), "The war of ideas is very important and this is one we haven't really started to engage yet."


Friday, April 27, 2007

Big Wow!

Strange Things of the Universe
(Image from Wikipedia)

According to Wikipedia, the astrophysicist Paola Zizzi, Department of Pure and Applied Mathematics, University of Padova, Italy, has a loopy theory about consciousness:

Italian astrophysicist Paola Zizzi is perhaps most notable for her work in the field of Loop quantum gravity theory that regards the early universe as a kind of quantum computer. She proposed that the universe could have achieved the threshold of computational complexity sufficient for the emergence of consciousness during the period of cosmic inflation, in a paper entitled "Emergent Consciousness: From the Early Universe to Our Mind," which has become known as the Big Wow theory.
In a small corner of this possibly conscious, quantum-computating universe occurred a perhaps not unrelated 'big wow' moment, reported by The Sun Online (Mike Sullivan and John Kay, "Docs fight to save man's willy," April 24, 2007, h/t Big Ho), during which some diners in the London restaurant 'Zizzi' were interrupted by a fellow in a deep blue mood of deflationary expansiveness:

Horrified diners watched in shock as a maniac . . . burst into the Zizzi eaterie in central London and grabbed a knife from the kitchen. He then leapt on a table and dropped his trousers as customers fled screaming. . . . Stuart McMahon, who was eating supper with his girlfriend, said: "This guy came running in then charged into the kitchen, got a massive knife and started waving it about. Everyone was screaming and running out as he jumped on a table, dropped his trousers and popped his penis out. Then he cut it off. I couldn't believe it."
Seeing is not always believing, it seems, concerning the loopy acts of the ridiculously insane. Anyway, I juxtapose these two random bits of information because both involve the name "Zizzi" and synergistically teach us a lesson about consciousness and futility:

"Futility" (1918) by Wilfred Owen

Move him into the sun --
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds, --
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
-- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?
The universe despite Paolo Zizzi, gives no indications of consciousness, aside from in such occasional detritus as human beings. As for that insane fellow in the restaurant 'Zizzi', the man's unmanned manhood was reattached under conditions of general anesthesia.

In other words, unconsciousness.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

More from a former Islamist...

Ed Husain, Reluctant Islamist
(Image from Penguin Books)

Ed Husain -- the British former Islamist whose parents immigrated to England from the Indian subcontinent -- gives us all reason for some hopefulness in the clash with Islamism, or so implies an article by John-Paul Flintoff, "Rediscovering a kinder, gentler Islam," from the Sunday Times Online (April 21, 2007):
[W]hen a Christian youth was murdered by a Muslim, Husain realised it was a direct result of the hateful atmosphere he had helped to create. "I had advocated the ideas of Muslim domination, confrontation and jihad." That murder marked the start of Husain's withdrawal from Islamism. He was helped by Faye, a fellow student who later became his wife.

His doubts about radical Islam were reinforced by two years living in the Middle East.

He also regained a spiritual, non-political faith much like that of his Grandpa. "Sufi teachers taught me not to look down on non-Muslims," he says, "because you never know who is revered in God's eyes."

No longer believing in a clash of civilisations, he points out that it was Muslim scholars who kept alive Greek philosophy and science and reintroduced them to Europe. "We form part of western tradition. It's our tradition!"
That someone as deeply involved in the Islamist movement in Britain as Husain was could grow out of it gives us reason to hope. While not all Sufis are peaceful, nor do all reject the jihad of battle, the Sufi tradition in Islam does seem more open to other faiths. Sometimes, perhaps, this openness has served merely to Islamize a conquered culture by gradual inculcation of Muslim values among non-Muslims, but other times, it may have allowed for greater pluralism -- both within a society of Muslims and within societies in which Muslims and non-Muslims live. Someone with greater knowledge than my own could perhaps instruct us.

Incidentally, Husain's point about Greek philosophy and science being kept alive by Muslim scholar, while not false, requires some qualifications. Christian scholars hadn't lost everything, and there were renaissances (e.g., the Carolingian) before the Renaissance of the 12th Century that was, indeed, partly inspired by Christian contact with Muslims in Spain. Moreover, Greek knowledge was also kept alive in the Christian Byzantine Empire itself, which provided a conduit of philosophy and science to Western Christendom, especially as Muslim attacks on Byzantium, leading to its fall is 1453, drove Orthodox Christian refugees to the Western, Catholic realm and engendered the greatest rebirth of the Classical tradition in The Renaissance.

Therefore, I wouldn't strongly imply that the Western tradition belongs to the Islamic tradition. I'd note, rather, that Islamic civilization and Western civilization have both borrowed from each other. Most of the borrowing, or so it appears to me, has been on the Muslim side. Certainly that's the case in the past 500 years. But since Muslim scholars were 'preserving' Greek knowledge (albeit not preserving the original Greek sources, as noted by Rémi Brague in Eccentric Culture), then Islamic civilization was already borrowing from early on in its rise to political, military, and intellectual greatness.

Even the clash-of-civilizations theorist himself, Samuel P. Huntington, acknowledges that civilizations don't only clash with each other, for they also borrow from each other -- often as they are also busy clashing.

So even if Ed Husain has withdrawn from his own clash-of-civilizations jihad, his personal example might not provide as much hope as one would wish:
What happened to him, and others, is the result of misplaced policies. "In the name of multiculturalism we have created ghettos," he says.

"In east London you can go to a nursery and then a school and then get a job and almost everyone in your life will be a Muslim. There is a Muslim underworld here, and that is the only frame of reference for young Muslims. We are sitting on a time bomb."
It would seem that Husain believes that there is a civilizational clash, after all, a hidden time bomb just waiting to explode...

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A former Islamist speaks...

Wahhabi Threat?
(Image from Wikipedia)

The British newspaper The Sunday Times online has a fascinating article, "How a British jihadi saw the light" (April 21, 2007), written by a certain "Ed Husain" whom I've never heard of but who is, apparently, a British citizen of African descent -- though whether directly or by way of the Caribbean (or elsewhere), I do not know.

Husain is a former Islamist and has written a book, The Islamist, about his experience in Saudi Arabia as a black man encountering stark racism where he least expected to find it, namely, in the puritanical Islam of Saudi Wahabism. The above-mentioned article is an extract from his book.

I'm not sure that Husain was ever really a "jihadi," for the extract says nothing about him fighting in an actual jihad, but the subtitle aptly summarizes his article: "Ed Hussain (sic), once a proponent of radical Islam in London, tells how his time as a teacher in Saudi Arabia led him to turn against extremism."

Allow me to extract from his extract:

During our first two months in Jeddah, Faye and I relished our new and luxurious lifestyle: a shiny jeep, two swimming pools, domestic help, and a tax-free salary. The luxury of living in a modern city with a developed infrastructure cocooned me from the frightful reality of life in Saudi Arabia.

My goatee beard and good Arabic ensured that I could pass for an Arab.

But looking like a young Saudi was not enough: I had to act Saudi, be Saudi. And here I failed.

My first clash with Saudi culture came when, being driven around in a bulletproof jeep, I saw African women in black abayas tending to the rubbish bins outside restaurants, residences and other busy places.

"Why are there so many black cleaners on the streets?" I asked the driver. The driver laughed. "They're not cleaners. They are scavengers; women who collect cardboard from all across Jeddah and then sell it. They also collect bottles, drink cans, bags."

"You don't find it objectionable that poor immigrant women work in such undignified and unhygienic conditions on the streets?"

"Believe me, there are worse jobs women can do."

Though it grieves me to admit it, the driver was right. In Saudi Arabia women indeed did do worse jobs. Many of the African women lived in an area of Jeddah known as Karantina, a slum full of poverty, prostitution and disease.

A visit to Karantina, a perversion of the term "quarantine" [i.e., (Arabic: الكرنتينا al-qarantīna)], was one of the worst of my life. Thousands of people who had been living in Saudi Arabia for decades, but without passports, had been deemed "illegal" by the government and, quite literally, abandoned under a flyover [i.e., an overpass].

A non-Saudi black student I had met at the British Council accompanied me. "Last week a woman gave birth here," he said, pointing to a ramshackle cardboard shanty. Disturbed, I now realised that the materials I had seen those women carrying were not always for sale but for shelter.

I had never expected to see such naked poverty in Saudi Arabia.

At that moment it dawned on me that Britain, my home, had given refuge to thousands of black Africans from Somalia and Sudan: I had seen them in their droves in Whitechapel. They prayed, had their own mosques, were free and were given government housing.

Many Muslims enjoyed a better lifestyle in non-Muslim Britain than they did in Muslim Saudi Arabia. At that moment I longed to be home again.

All my talk of ummah [i.e., the worldwide Muslim community] seemed so juvenile now. It was only in the comfort of Britain that Islamists could come out with such radical utopian slogans as one government, one ever expanding country, for one Muslim nation. The racist reality of the Arab psyche would never accept black and white people as equal.
I cannot vouch for Ed Husain's generalization about the "racist reality of the Arab psyche," but he certainly seems to know Saudi reality well.

Husain places the blame solely upon Wahhabism -- though I suspect that something broader than puritanical Islam is at work -- but things could be even worse, he implies:
In contemporary Wahhabism there are two broad factions. One is publicly supportive of the House of Saud, and will endorse any policy decision reached by the Saudi government and provide scriptural justification for it. The second believes that the House of Saud should be forcibly removed and the Wahhabi clerics take charge. Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda are from the second school.
And after relating many other of his experiences in Saudi Arabia, he informs us that he has come to a far-reaching conclusion:
My time in Saudi Arabia bolstered my conviction that an austere form of Islam (Wahhabism) married to a politicised Islam (Islamism) is wreaking havoc in the world. This anger-ridden ideology, an ideology I once advocated, is not only a threat to Islam and Muslims, but to the entire civilised world.
As I said, a far-reaching conclusion. I think that I will need to read this book, for an extract is too little upon which to base an informed opinion...

UPDATE: I misunderstood Ed Husain's ethnic origins, as this report by John-Paul Flintoff, "Rediscovering a kinder, gentler Islam," from the Sunday Times Online (April 21, 2007) makes clear:
The oldest child of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, he grew up in East London. His parents were religious and had close ties to an internationally revered Muslim scholar Sheikh Abd al-Latif, whom young Ed (short for Mohammed) called "Grandpa". Grandpa helped to perfect his Arabic accent.
In other words, Ed Husain is what the British refer to as "Asian," or what we Americans might awkwardly call "Indian from India" (although the expression "Indian subcontinent" is not entirely clear, for that also includes both Bangladesh and Pakistan). His nickname "Ed" confused me. Apologies for the error.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Morning Alarm...

(Image from Wikipedia)

Having neglected to reset my wake-up alarm, I woke up late and was alarmed instead by a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report (Robin Acton, "Furor over author Ayaan Hirsi Ali's visit stirs debate on religious freedom," April 22, 2007) on the remark of a certain Fouad ElBayly -- imam of the Islamic Center of Johnstown -- who thinks that the Dutch feminist author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee and apostate from Islam, should be put to death because:
"She has been identified as one who has defamed the faith. If you come into the faith, you must abide by the laws, and when you decide to defame it deliberately, the sentence is death."
One might point out that Ms. Ali did not "come into the faith"; she was born in the faith and chose to go out of the faith, but such a distinction would likely be lost on Mr. ElBayly.

At least Mr. ElBayly is a moderate on the process by which such a death sentence should be carried out:
Although ElBayly believes a death sentence is warranted for Hirsi Ali, he stressed that America is not the jurisdiction where such a crime should be punished. Instead, Hirsi Ali should be judged in a Muslim country after being given a trial.
In other words, Mr. ElBayly doesn't think that Ms. Ali should be cut down in the street like her friend in Amsterdam, Theo van Gogh, whom Mohammed Bouyeri brutally murdered in 2004, first shooting him eight times in the chest, then cutting his throat so deeply that he was nearly decapitated, and finally impaling him in the torso with two knives, one attaching a note that threatened Ms. Ali. Mr. ElBayly's views are more merciful than that:
"If it is found that a person is mentally unstable, or a child or disabled, there should be no punishment," he said. "It's a very merciful religion if you try to understand it."
I think what Mr. ElBayly meant to say was that "It's a very merciful religion if you submit to it," for by "try to understand it," he clearly doesn't intend to allow any critical, searching questions.

But at least, he's a moderate...


Monday, April 23, 2007

100,000 Hits as of Today

Visitor Number 100,000 to my Domain
(Image from Wikipedia)

According to Site Meter, at precisely 2:54:57 p.m. on April 22, 2007, someone in the middle of the United States visited Gypsy Scholar and glanced at an entry from Saturday, December 31, 2005 for an infinitesimally split second before exiting zero seconds later.

That too brief, disinclined visitor was number 100,000 in the sequence of hits on my blog.

Oddly, the language of the visitor was British English. I don't know how Site Meter knows this sort of thing, but it's an intriguing detail, if true. Actually, this limey wouldn't really be my 100,000th visitor, for I haven't had Site Meter from the beginning of my blog. I should also note -- for those perplexed about the discrepancy between the date of the visitor and the date of this blog entry -- that Seoul Time for the limey's visit was 3:54:57 a.m., April 23, 2007. Allowing for Daylight Savings, that would make for a ten-time-zone difference. Coincidentally, I was the very next -- at precisely 3:56:58 a.m. -- to visit my blog, which is why I happen to know the Seoul Time for visitor number 100,000. Otherwise, I would have been just guessing.

Incidentally, the image above -- of Constantine I 'donating' dominion over Rome and the entire Western Roman Empire to Pope Sylvester I -- is from a 13th-century fresco in the Santi Quattro Coronati and may have been the image originally posted for my blog entry of December 31, 2005 (which number 100,000 visited), but it is now missing on that entry, for websites shift, hot links break, and images fade away from entries posted by a technoramus like me.

This, too, shall pass...


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Virginia Tech: Typically American Violence?

(Image from Spree Killers)

One of my regular readers, JJ Mollo, wondered about my characterization of Seung-Hui Cho's rampage as the typically American story of the "insane loner with guns":
I don't know if we can blame it on American culture though. Does this sort of thing never happen in Korea? The murder of a mayor in Japan strikes me as no different from things that happen here. Some places, especially homogenous cultures, are more peaceful in general, and the people may have less access to and money to pay for weapons.
JJ has a point -- and a good example in the shooting murder of Nagasaki mayor Iccho Itoh. This sort of violence isn't specific to America. Korea, too, has had a very violent history, even during the Park Chung-hee dictatorship, when society was more controlled, a point that has been reinforced for me recently, for I've just finished reading Cho Se-hui's novel from 1978, The Dwarf (translated by Bruce Fulton and Ju-Chan Fulton), which depicts a Korea replete with violence of all sorts and at all levels of society. I therefore acknowledged in a reply to JJ:
As for violence in Korean society, there's actually quite a lot, but since guns are more difficult to obtain here in South Korea, then the violence takes other forms (e.g., beatings, stabbings, burnings, etc.). Still, living in Korea is generally safer than living in the U.S.

As for specifically this sort of thing happening in Korea, check out the case of Woo Bum-kon, who killed 58 persons (including himself) on a murderous rampage here in Korea in 1982. You can find the story on Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, Seung-Hui Cho would likely have been rather Americanized after 15 years in the States, and he does fit a type with which we're familiar.

That doesn't mean that his Koreanness played no role, but we won't know that part until much further along in the ongoing investigation. Everybody has a story, including Cho.
I expect that we'll be finding out rather a lot about Seung-Hui Cho over the next few weeks. Eventually, somebody will write a definitive book on him and his madness, linking the Korean and American details to make sense of something senseless.

And we'll then wait for the next, ineluctable, senseless act...


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Virginia Tech: On Praying for the Dead

(Borrowed from MEMRI)

The blog for the Middle East Media Research Institute (i.e., MEMRI Blog) notes a minor detail concerning the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre:
The liberal Arabic-language website Aafaq reports [, April 17, 2007] that a Muslim student set off a debate when she sent an email to the mailing list of a Muslim students' association (rabitat al-tullab al-muslimin) at Virginia Tech asking the students to pray that Allah have mercy on those killed and wounded in the shooting attack at the university.

According to Aafaq, the dean of student affairs at American International University, Abu Hamza Hijji, responded, writing that Allah the Most Merciful forbids praying for mercy for the non-Muslim dead, or even for the non-Muslim living, and that it is only permitted to pray that they be rightly guided. He added that what happened was a sad occurrence, but that does not give Muslims the right to transgress the laws of Allah the Most Merciful....

Hijji . . . [said] that there is no problem with praying that non-Muslims be kept safe and not be killed, if there is hope that they might be guided [to the right path]; but one cannot pray for the non-Muslim dead, since there is no chance of their being guided.
Although Hijji himself noted that this might seem "hard-hearted," he insisted that this is "God's message to guide others to the truth." At such a time, this does seem hardhearted, but in the interest of fairness, I think that we ought to point out that most American Protestants would also not pray for the souls of those who have already died. In general, Protestants believe that death ends all opportunity of any guidance for the unsaved.

On the other hand, Protestants would have no qualms about praying for the living, whether Christian or not. Nor would Catholics have a problem with such prayers.

But does anyone (hint: Kate Marie) know the Catholic position on prayers for the dead? I recall that those in Purgatory can be prayed for, but can Catholics pray for the dead who are not in Purgatory? I presume that there's no need to pray for the dead who are in Heaven, but what of the dead in unpleasant places other than Purgatory -- e.g., Limbo, Erebus, various Dantean circles of Hell -- can prayers improve their condition?

Hijji wrote that the relative importance of brotherhood in humanity or religion needs to be evaluated according to Allah's laws, and not according to human reason.
By contrast, I'm reminded -- perhaps unfairly so -- of the remarks by Pope Benedict XVI on the important role that, based on the real analogy between God and human being, reason should have in religion and on the difficulty that, for Islam, God's "will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality."

But a dehellenized Protestantism, as the Pope also noted, suffers from a similar problem...


Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech: Shame vs. Guilt

Korean Fears, American Reassurances
(Image from Korea Times, 04-19-2007)

The Korea Times, in an article "Americans Show Understanding Over Koreans' Backlash Worry" (April 19, 2007), reports:
Koreans and Americans appear to have different views on the causes of the Virginia shooting spree as the Korean fear of backlash was overcome by an American outpouring of compassion and help.

Koreans, especially those living in America, are still fearful that the recent Virginia Tech tragedy would spawn an anti-Korean backlash but Americans in general have extended their hand of support to Koreans, claiming that this incident had nothing to do with race.

Rather, they say, it was the case of a deeply troubled young man.
The article does not say what Koreans think about "the causes of the Virginia shooting spree," so I assume that what is meant not "different views on the causes of the Virginia shooting spree" but "different concerns about the Virginia shooting spree."

Fortunately, the American reaction so far has generally been supportive of Koreans in America. For the most part, Americans have viewed Cho Seung-hui's actions as those of a profoundly disturbed individual, not specifically as a Korean.

Probably, Koreans also think that Cho was simply insane. Nevertheless, they feel great shame over his actions, as is consistent with the degree to which South Korea is still a "shame culture." They thus also worry about Americans blaming all Koreans. My own students here at Kyung Hee University inquired about this two days ago, as I noted in one of my own comments to my initial blog entry on this Virginia Tech issue:
My students asked me if Americans would "hate Koreans" after this.

I said that I thought that most Americans would see this as yet another very American pattern of "insane loner with guns." I pointed out that this sort of thing happens every few years in the U.S. and that we know the pattern by now.
One of my readers, JK, suggested, "Assure your students that the focus is not on hating neither is most feeling directed; at. The greater feelings here are directed; for." I replied:
JK, I think that you said it fine, and I will pass along your message. My students will be glad to hear that Americans, of all groups, direct not hatred at [Koreans] but sympathy for [them].

We can't exclude the possibility of some disturbed individuals expressing hateful actions, of course, but such actions would be broadly and roundly condemned by nearly everyone . . . I think, hope, and believe.
And I do think that most Americans will focus upon the individual Cho Seung-hui rather than Koreans in general, for America, characterized by a "guilt culture," looks more to individual responsibility and blames Cho but not Koreans generally.

May this continue to be the case.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Preventing future Virginia Techs?

Overview of Virginia Tech
(Image from Wikipedia)

On the John Milton Listserve to which I belong, we have been discussing what has happened at Virginia Tech and how to prevent it from happening again.

One scholar, Carol B., suggested psychological profiles on every potential university student to keep out those individuals who might prove dangerous -- perhaps along with an administrative system for catching those students who might grow dangerous while at university (though this point was less clearly made). Otherwise, she asked:
. . . how many more 'copycats' can we afford to expose our young people to?
Another scholar, Alan H., responded:

What about "our" unstable, disturbed young people, and all who might at some point in their lives be considered as such by teachers and counselors of varying levels of competence and fair-mindedness, 99.9999999% of whom pose no threat to anyone? Are they to be blacklisted from school and employment?
While emotionally, I can emphathize with Carol B., I share the concerns of Alan H., so I posted the following to the Milton Listserve:

All day yesterday, I was thinking about the same point raised by Alan.

I recall being something of a 'loner' as a young man in university -- keeping to myself a lot and feeling alienated from fellow students as I underwent my 'existential encounter with nothingness' for a couple of years.

So ... did I need counseling, or more philosophy?

I'd be averse to seeing this sort of intellectual crisis treated as pathological when it's actually, often, a sign of significant intellectual growth.

Suppose that I had been 'noticed' and referred for counseling. I'll bet that I would have been resentful at the implication that I was 'troubled' and would have grown even more sullen -- which likely would have resulted in a psychological evaluation that I required further 'treatment.'

I foresee a Teufelskreis of eccentric, epicyclic complexity that, once a student were spun into it by administrative machinery, would be exceedingly difficult to escape without the student fully accepting the 'diagnosis', willingly submitting to the 'treatment', and gratefully acknowledging the 'cure'.

"Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."

Or blacklisted as a threat, as Alan wonders? Similarly to Alan, I worry that, in attempting to prevent a future Viginia Tech, we could do more harm than good.
So . . . let's be careful and make sure that in our concern to catch potential killers, we not set up administrative systems that will treat 'difficult' individuals as pathological threats.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Question Mark: Ismail Ax?

(Image from Wikipedia)

I just learned that the suspect in yesterday's Virginia Tech shootings was a 23-year-old South Korean man named Cho Seung-Hui (조승희, 曹丞禧) who had lived as a legal resident alien in the United States since 1992, when he arrived at the age of 8 with his parents.

I guess that we'll soon discover his motives, for according to this report in the Belleville News Democrat, he left behind a note several pages long:
ABC News, citing confidential law enforcement sources, reported that Cho left a long and "disturbing" note in his dorm room. The note, running several pages, reportedly begins in the present tense and then shifts to the past tense. It contains passages explaining Cho's actions and says, "You caused me to do this," the sources told ABC News. (Kytja Weir et al., "South Korean undergraduate identified as VA Tech shooter" (April 17, 2007))
Since two hours separated the first two killings, in a dormitory, from the 30 other killings in a classroom building, I wonder if he wrote this message during that time. The past tense of the statement "You caused me to do this" might refer to what he had already done and was now imminently intending to do. The report says that the dormitory where the first shooting took place was immediately locked down and secured by police, so Cho must have left that dorm immediately after the shooting. If he went from there to his own dorm, which was elsewhere, he could have written a long note at that time.

According to the same Belleville report, Cho seems to have been a loner:
University spokesman Larry Hinker called Cho a "loner" and said university officials were having a hard time finding information about him.
Even the Koreans on campus seem not to have known him well:
Young-Hwan Kim, president of the Korean Campus Crusade for Christ on campus, said his group had tried repeatedly to get Cho involved in its activities at Virginia Tech. Cho rebuffed the invitations and declined to provide contact information, said Kim, 24, a graduate student in civil engineering.

"No one knew him," Kim said. "We had no contact throughout four years. It's amazing. We could not reach out to him."
From the information provided in this Yahoo! News report by Matt Apuzzo, "Va. Tech gunman writings raised concerns" (April 17, 2007), Cho seems to have wanted little contact with anyone:
Classmates . . . said that on the first day of an introduction to British literature class last year, the 30 or so English students went around and introduced themselves. When it was Cho's turn, he didn't speak.

The professor looked at the sign-in sheet and, where everyone else had written their names, Cho had written a question mark. "Is your name, 'Question mark?'" classmate Julie Poole recalled the professor asking. The young man offered little response.

Cho spent much of that class sitting in the back of the room, wearing a hat and seldom participating. In a small department, Cho distinguished himself for being anonymous. "He didn't reach out to anyone. He never talked," Poole said.

"We just really knew him as the question mark kid," Poole said.
Cho has left behind a lot of question marks.

One question is what he meant by writing, in red ink, the expression "Ismail Ax" on one of his arms (presumably his left forearm if he was righthanded). Two sorts of speculation have emerged -- the literary and the religious.

A certain "Ray F." has suggested to Hot Air that the reference might be to a character in a story by James Fenimore Cooper:
You probably already know this, but in James Fennimore Cooper's story "The Prairie," the settler Ishmael Bush, who is attempting to escape from civilization, sets out across the prairie with two key tools, a gun and an axe. Each has a symbolic meaning. The axe -- which can either kill or provide shelter -- stands for both creation and destruction. Given that the VT killer was an English major, might this be the likely meaning of the words on his arm? Just my two cents.
But Boing Boing reports Daniel J. Geduld's tentative suggestion of the main character in the book Ishmael by E.D.E.N. Southworth, the 'relevant' passage being this one:
But there, my dear! that boy has slipped out, and is cutting the wood; I'll go and do it for him," said Reuben, as the sound of Ishmael's ax fell upon his ears.

Hannah arose and followed Gray to the door, and there before it stood Ishmael, chopping away at random, upon the pile of wood, his cheeks flushed with fever and his eyes wild with excitement.
Since Cho was an English major, who knows? Maybe he did identify with some Ishmael character. If so, why not the famous "Ishmael" in Herman Melville's Moby Dick. That character probably used an axe somewhere in that epic story.

But I don't think that any of these suggestions are likely, for Cho -- being an English major -- would probably not have altered the spelling of "Ishmael" to the Muslim spelling "Ismail." The spelling "Ismail" suggests a different source, and this is where the religious speculation pops up. The same Boing Boing report notes a suggestion by a reader, William McEwan, who points to a possible link to an Islamic story about Ibrahim (Muslim name for Abraham):
He left his father after he lost hope to convert him to the right path, and directed his efforts towards the people of the town, but they rejected his call and threatened him. By Allah, he said, I shall plot a plan to destroy their idols. He knew that a big celebration was coming soon, where everybody would leave town for a big feast on the riverbank. After making sure that nobody was left in town, Ibrahim went towards the temple armed with an ax. Statues of all shapes and sizes were sitting there adorned with decorations. Plates of food were offered to them, but the food was untouched. "Well, why don't you eat? The food is getting cold." He said to the statues, joking; then with his axe he destroyed all the statues except one, the biggest of them. He hung the ax around its neck and left.
The connection here is that Ibrahim was the father of Ismail, and his moral fervor in destroying the statues might reflect Cho's 'moral' fervor in condemning his fellow students, for the note left behind in his dorm room condemned "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans" at the university.

But I don't think that this Islamic story is likely as a reference either, for the axe is not Ismail's but Ibrahim's. And since we're on the topic, I very strongly doubt that Cho has anything to do with Islam, despite the Muslim name "Ismail" in the expression "Ismail Ax."

The question mark remains.

UPDATE 1: My Korean wife informs me that in Korean culture, writing one's name in red ink is believed to bring bad luck.

UPDATE 2: On the package that Cho sent to NBC's New York headquarters, the return address had the name "A. Ishmael," which increases the likelihood that Cho was referring to James Fennimore Cooper's story "The Prairie," with its main character, Ishmael Bush, and his axe (and also further increases the likelihood that this this massacre has nothing to do with Islam).


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Not quite a thesis statement...

No Pilcrows Please
Not yet anyway...
(Image from Wikipedia)

As long-time readers know, I require my students to write an expository essay, and since Koreans generally don't learn how to do this in high school or even other university courses, then I always have a lot of explaining to do, and their first attempts are muddled by misunderstandings about what I'm looking for.

Next week, students are required to hand in their thesis statement, which is a single sentence with the logical structure A --> B b/c A --> C, e.g., "Socrates is mortal because he is human."

Note that this is one single sentence.

Many of my students, each semester, misunderstand this first assignment and turn in an entire paragraph ... minus a thesis statement. Here's an early example from this semester:
People often tend to fear about changes. It is true that changes sometimes bring problems with it. For example, I prefer to always go to a beauty salon which I know well. I can be sure that my hair will be cut just the way I want. But what if the beauty salon one day closes or moves to another city? The answer is clear. I have to find another beauty salon. This can be annoying and I might have some trial and error for a while. But someday I will find a new beauty salon, and moreover, it can even be a chance that I might find a better one. We often face changes that we can not avoid, and we should try to make these changes an opportunity. Multiculturalism is one of the changes increasing in the global world and it is hard to stop this change. The wisest way to deal with this is to benefit from it, and not suffer from it -- and this depends on our attitude to multiculturalism.
As one can see, this is more of an introductory paragraph, and it does demonstrate a fairly good control of English as a second language -- albeit with errors to suffer correction -- but it doesn't appear to have an explicit thesis statement. The implicit thesis statement would seem to be something like this: "Multiculturalism must be accepted because it is nearly impossible to stop." I wouldn't find that a very satisfying argument, but it would at least approximate the proper logical structure.

Anyway, here's what I told the student:
Unfortunately, you have not written a thesis statement. What you have written below is a paragraph, not a statement. A thesis statement is one single sentence with the logical structure A --> B b/c A --> C.

Since you seem unclear on what a thesis statement is, I suggest that you re-read the material on thesis statements in the handout. Also, there is a new handout that explains the essay in simplified form, so you'll want to read that as well, and you can find it at the cafe website.

As for your paragraph ... it sounds like a beginning paragraph, but I wonder how effective this introductory passage is since it compares multiculturalism to a new hairdresser. Your example raises obvious questions. What if your new hairdresser ruins your hair? What if you have several hairdressers working on different areas of your hair, each hairdresser using a different style? By analogy, what if multiculturalism ruins your society? You might want to reconsider this manner of introducing your argument (when you have actually constructed a thesis statement) before the first draft of the essay is due.

But that can wait. For now, you need to write a thesis statement, and it is due next week, on Monday, April 23, for the due date has been changed.
The student, therefore, has an extra week, and even then, this exercise receives no grade and is purely for the student's benefit, for I use the exercise to ensure that each student understands precisely what a thesis statement is and has has managed to construct one perfectly before moving on to writing the expository essay that will lay out the subordinate arguments and provide the supporting evidence.

If I can get students to do that, I've succeeded in my main aim.


Monday, April 16, 2007

You drink what you are.

A Pleasing Pun
(Image from ADHS)

I've previously mentioned my hometown friend Bruce Cochran, who hasn't moved as far from the Ozarks as I but who has grown into a connoisseur of taste whose expertise in food, drink, and conviviality has taken him all over the world. From a recent email that he sent me, I gather that he's currently leading a wine tour through Italy and Spain. He also noted a few other points in response to a resource that I found online and sent to him, namely, a book review pertaining to social status and consumption of alcohol in 17th-century England:
What an amazing resource you've sent me! I am impressed with the number of people who give this their attention. It's a pretty big field (please excuse the small unintentional pun). I heard someone recently talk about World War II, "when the men went off to war and the women went off to church" -- and were encouraged to vote their areas dry. I believe that Salem was wet until about that time. I'm sure the returning soldiers weren't excited about that. At least they had the VFW's [lodges for the Veterans of Foreign Wars]. Glad all is well on your side of the world, all is fine here. I'm leaving next Friday for Europe (Italy and Spain).
Bruce's point about alcohol in our Ozark hometown of Salem, Arkansas was made in response to a remark that I made about folks in our county voting dry but drinking wet, but I suppose that I ought to just post my original email:
Bruce, you might find this [book review] interesting, given your knowledge of drinking and culture. The review is also perhaps personally interesting for tipplers such as the two of us who have grown up in counties that voted dry but drank wet and who are thus attuned to the political and social significance of alcohol.

The website that posted this, by the way, is the Alcohol and Drugs History Society, which publishes a journal, The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. Here's the website address:

Alcohol and Drugs History Society

I realize that you're a very busy man -- as am I -- but this might prove to be a useful resource.
This history society on alcohol and drugs might sound as though it would be narrow and possibly technical in tone, but the review to which I alerted Bruce suggests otherwise. This online review comes from the pen -- or typing fingers -- of University of Alberta historian David Clemis, who looks at A Pleasing Sinne: Drink and Conviviality in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004), a volume edited by Adam Smyth. Clemis titles his review "Drink, Identity, and Ambivalence," and from what he writes, this book of essays by various scholars sounds like a work pleasing to my tastes:
This engaging collection of essays represents an important new strand in the study of early modern English drug and alcohol history. The largely literary studies gathered together in A Pleasing Sinne focus neither upon state regulation nor the evidence of the social or public order effects of the production and distribution of alcohol. Instead, they take a more cultural turn in their efforts to elucidate key values, attitudes, and beliefs that are apparent in various seventeenth-century English texts concerned, in one way or another, with alcohol consumption.
Clemis then adds:
As Adam Smyth observes in his introduction to this collection, "the great wealth of texts that reflected and shaped seventeenth-century culture contested the moral, social and political significances of alcohol" (p. xiv). A key theme that runs through most of these essays is what Smyth calls "a larger cultural ambivalence about alcohol that is, to this day, unresolved" (p. xiv). For seventeenth-century writers, this ambivalence was fostered by broadly inconsistent conceptions of drinking. On one hand, drink promoted conviviality, bonds of friendship, loyalty, and artistic creativity (so it was said of wine), and it was strengthening and refreshing (especially English ale). But the evils of drink were also seen in its promotion of sin and arrogance, as well as the destruction of reason and dulling of the wits (so said royalists of ale-swilling commonwealthmen). Drinking was also thought to undermine the natural social order and, for some, the drinking of claret was simply unpatriotic. For the contributors to this volume, this ambivalence, or at least the strong contests between understandings of the nature and effects of alcohol (or different types of alcohol), often turns on the place of drinking in the assertion of one or more forms of identity. Thus, we find essays about drinking and political association, gender, national stereotyping, and social rank.
What Smyth identifies as the "larger cultural ambivalence about alcohol that is, to this day, unresolved" pervades not only British society but also American society and informs such political ambiguities as those expressed in the brilliant "If-By-Whiskey Speech" given in 1952 by the Mississippi legislator Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr. on whether Mississippi should outlaw or legalize alcohol:
If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.


If when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
My home county of Fulton in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas opted to regard whiskey as the devil's brew -- or at least the women did so during World War II when so many men were gone to war that the women outvoted the remaining men and made the county dry.

If that's what happened, then it might explain something that my grandfather said, namely, that Fulton County was a lot less violent after World War II because all of the roughnecks had gone away during the war and had never come back.

I'm guessing that the roughnecks went someplace where they could more readily drink what they were.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Gypsy Scholar's identity revealed!

Gypsy Scholar: The Ugly One
(Image from 매일경제)

Asia may be rising, but we all remained seated.

For those of you interested in who "we all" were, the scholars visible in the photo, from left to right, are Kisoo Kim (Discussant, Sejong Institute, Korea), Horace Jeffery Hodges (Presenter, Kyung Hee University, Korea), Myongsob Kim (Presenter, Yonsei University, Korea), Chong Wook Song (Chair, Seoul National University, Korea), Dong Zhiyong (Peking University, China), and Zhang Jian Ping (National Development and Reform Commission, China).

Partly visible, just behind my capped head, is the capless head of Richard P. Suttmeier (University of Oregon, USA). Invisible is Ha-Lyong Jung (Kyung Hee University, Korea).

The photo and accompanying article appear in the Korean paper 매일경제 (Maeil Kyung Jae / Maeil Business Newspaper). Here are the money quotes:
김명섭 연세대 교수와 함께 발표자로 나선 호레이스 제프리 호지스 경희대 교수는 "아시아를 `서방과 그 나머지(the West and the rest)`라는 도식으로 봐서는 세계화로 인한 문제를 푸는 데 도움이 되지 않는다"며 "아시아 스스로도 세계의 책임 있는 주체로 스스로 보편성을 찾아내고 서방이 지고 있는 무거운 짐도 분담해야 할 때가 됐다"고 운을 뗐다.

그는 단순히 넓은 형태로 협력을 추구하는 `스파게티 그릇`형 지역협력 차원에서 벗어나 이제는 `샐러드 그릇`형 국제협력에 나서야 한다고 강조했다.

Professor Kim Myongsob, of Yonsei University, and Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges, of Kyung Hee University, opened [the conference by] noting that "the sort of dichotomy [that is often conceptualized as one] between 'the West and the rest' is not helpful for solving the problems caused by globalization." Instead of being "the rest" after "the West," Asia should find its own universality not only for becoming a responsible subject of the world, but also for sharing the heavily-laden burden of the West.

They emphasized that [in Asian matters,] a salad-bowl-type process based on the nation-state should not be subordinated to a spaghetti-bowl-type process based on supranational networking.
I'm tempted to leave these quotes from our talk just as obscure as they appear to be, but I suppose that I ought to provide some clarifying remarks.

The "West and the rest" remark is an allusion to an observation made by Samuel P. Huntington (and also by Roger Scruton) that the 'rest' of the world is no longer satisfied with being second to the West. Our point was that if the non-West, specifically Asia, is rising, then it needs to assume the responsibility proper to great power and can't simply blame 'globalization' for the problems that it faces.

As for "salad bowl" versus "spaghetti bowl," these are metaphors -- borrowed from other scholars -- referring to a system of nation states versus a network of international organizations. Our point here was that international arrangements within Asia will have to come into being based upon the nation states, partly due to the passionate nationalism that we often find in Asia and partly by analogy to how the European Union developed through the decisions of nation states.

One might be tempted to look for more substance on which to subsist in these throw-away quotes, but don't attempt to mill too much flour from this grist.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Finally, psy-ops against Islamist Jihadis...

Memri 'Psy-Ops' Report

A recent posting at Memri, "Special Dispatch: Jihad & Terrorism Studies Project" (April 12, 2007, No. 1538), summarizes the Islamist reaction to an 'Islamist' article against using weapons of mass destruction in jihad:
The Islamist website Al-Firdaws recently posted an article by a certain Abu Zabadi titled "Religious Grounds for [Launching] a Nuclear Attack."[1] The article, presented as a response to "recent rumors about Al-Qaeda's plan to attack the U.S. with WMDs such as a nuclear bomb," unequivocally opposes the use of WMDs by Muslims against the West, and attempts to counter the legal justifications for their use recently put forward by some prominent religious scholars affiliated with Al-Qaeda and other jihad movements. [2]
As noted by Memri, the "article sparked a fierce debate among participants on the forum, with some participants supporting the author's reasoning and conclusions, and others forcefully rejecting them." Memri notes the main points in Abu Zabadi's article, which you can easily read for yourself, so I'll just summarize Memri's summary:

Abu Zabadi argues that using WMDs as a first-strike attack is forbidden by Islam because such an attack indiscriminately kills the innocent along with the guilty. He dismisses the common jihadi claim that the U.S. has used WMDs against Muslims, for such things as cluster bombs or depleted uranium ammunition are conventional weapons that do not kill millions in one strike. Moreover, using WMDs against America would provoke a real WMD attack in return.

Against the Islamist argument that America must be destroyed because it is an immoral nation, Abu Zabadi notes that some Muslim countries are just as 'immoral' and that only Allah Himself, not the mujahideen, can decide to wipe such a country off the face of the earth -- and Allah doesn't need WMDs to accomplish this.

Finally, argues Abu Zabadi, a Qur'anic verse such as 2.194 -- "Whoever commits aggression against you, you should commit aggression against him like he has committed against you" -- does not sanction the killing of innocents, and he cites verse 2.190 as a prooftext: "Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors." This means, according to Abu Zabadi, that if Al-Qaeda wishes to respond in kind to U.S. attacks, then it should confront U.S. troops on the battlefield.
As Memri reports, some Islamists didn't take kindly to the arguments:
A participant calling himself Abdal Al-Sham began [by] saying: "This article was not written by a Muslim... but by an American, and more specifically, by [someone from] one of their strategic centers for countering the Islamic jihad...."
I think that Abdal Al-Sham is exactly right about who 'Abu Zabadi' is, but the interesting thing is that Abdal Al-Sham also goes to the trouble of trying to refute Abu Zabadi's arguments. I won't summarize Abdal Al-Sham's points -- which can be easily read at the linked site anyway -- for I merely wanted to note that Abdal Al-Sham couldn't simply ignore the arguments.

Even more interesting, Memri notes that "Another forum participant criticized Abdal Al-Sham's grasp of the religious sources and provided additional proof-texts in support of the position expressed in Abu Zabadi's article." Now, this other participant could well be yet another psy-ops plant from one of the "strategic centers for countering the Islamic jihad" -- to borrow Abdal Al-Sham's words -- but in the battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims, such arguments might help serve to dissuade those who are not yet jihadists from going down that violent path.

Or at least sow discord among jihadists...

Endnotes provided by Memri:


[2] For a summary of the arguments presented by some of these scholars, see Special Report No. 34, "Contemporary Islamist Ideology Authorizing Genocidal Murder," September 15, 2004. See also Reuven Paz, "Global Jihad and WMD: Between Martyrdom and Mass Destruction," Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, 2, (2005) pp. 74-86. For a May 2003 article by Islamist Saudi Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al-Fahd justifying the use of WMDs, see Nasser Al-Fahd, Risalah fi hukm istikhdam aslihat al-damar al-shamil dhid al-kuffar, (May 2003).

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Words to reflect upon...

Greg Mills the "great war against terror":
"The death of one insurgent creates many more in societies where blood ties and nationalist zeal are stronger than ideology."
The quote comes from Greg Mills, "Ten Counterinsurgency Commandments from Afghanistan," which I received April 10, 2007 in an e-note from the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

I had previously reflected on this paradox to the American counterinsurgency efforts in kinship-based societies like Afghanistan and Iraq: "the more you win, the more you lose."

If the death of any given insurgent raises up ten more, then unless one is willing to contemplate genocidal warfare, a counterinsurgency effort that focuses upon body counts is bound to lose.

Mills sets forth a more complex strategy, which I won't try to summarize here since I have a presentation to give this morning. Eventually, the paper by Mills should show up on FPRI's E-Notes site, though it hasn't yet, so keep on checking if you're interested.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Since I'm on a Christianity Today kick...

(Image from Wikipedia)

...I'll blog briefly about a recent issue's book note, partly because it touches on the ideas of Samuel P. Huntington and on one of the themes in the conference on Asia that I'll be participating in tomorrow.

The book note -- Christianity Today calls it a "Bookmark" -- concerns Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, edited by Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland, editors.

Dave Broucek begins his very brief review, "Declaration of Interdependence," with an unsourced quote attributed to Philip Jenkins (perhaps from the book under review?):
"In our lifetimes, the centuries-long North Atlantic captivity of the church is drawing to an end."
Jenkins is making an oblique allusion to the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Papacy, 1309-1377, also known as the Avignon Papacy, a time in which the French kings controlled the Catholic Church and used it for their own political purposes. (Behind this allusion lies the further allusion to the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews, approximately 597-537 BCE.)

Broucek remarks that "Christianity has become polycentric," although one of the volume's contributors, Tite Tiénou, puts things somewhat differently in his article, "Christian Theology in an Era of World Christianity":
[T]he center of gravity of world Christianity has shifted to the South. (40)
And he gives some figures to back this up by citing Andrew Walls, figures that clarify that a center of gravity is consistent with a polycentric Christianity:
In 1900, 83% of the world's Christians lived in North America and Europe. Today [in 1989], something approaching 60% live in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific. (40)
That was nearly 20 years ago, and the percentage outside of Europe and North America has since grown even more.

Tiénou echoes Jenkins on the end of the "Babylonian Captivity" in stating that:
The shift of Christianity's center of gravity is good news because it means that, as a global reality, the Christian faith is increasingly at home in many cultures and will not be imprisoned by any single culture. (41)
That decentralization might raise problems of its own -- think of Islam's chaotic lack of a center -- but it also raises some questions that I'd like to pose to Samuel P. Huntington, and I'm not the only one:
[O]ne would not know that Christianity is increasingly non-Western if one reads publications such as Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations (1996).

It is remarkable that in this book, published in 1996, Huntington states, "The West is now universally used to refer to what used to be called Western Christendom" (1996, 46). This statement seems to accredit the idea that Christianity is Western, especially if one accepts, as Huntington apparently does, the proposition that "religion is a central defining characteristic of civilization" (1996, 47). Western civilization, then, continues to be defined by the Christian religion. (42)
Tiénou needs to read Huntington a bit more carefully. Huntington does not mean that "Christianity is Western," for he distinguishes between Western civilization and Orthodox civilization, which is also Christian. However, I take Tiénou's point, namely, that Huntington fails to recognize the global nature of Christianity, and that poses problems for his classification of civilizations.

Huntington sees no problem in classifying all of Islam as a single civilization, regardless of where it has spread in the world. Hence, the Muslims of the southern Philippines are part of Islamic civilization and define one length of Islam's "bloody borders" -- to borrow Huntington's memorable expression.

But what about the Catholic Filipinos who confront those same Muslims of Mindanao? Are they part of Western civilization? And what of the sub-Saharan Africans, the vast majority of whom are Christian? Are they part of Western civilization? Huntington doesn't specifically include Catholic Filipinos in the West, and he specifically excludes Africans by classifying them as part of African civilization (despite Tiénou's remark, page 42-43, that Huntington does not recognize an African civilization).

Yesterday, I posed a related question to the Korean students in my course on Contemporary Issues in English. I noted the spread of Christianity in South Korea -- along with the fact of democracy and capitalism here -- and asked my students, "To what civilization does South Korea belong?"

Generally, they agreed that Korea is in a transition toward Western civilization. They acknowledged that it had long been part of Confucian civilization but that Confucianism was weakening steadily. They noted that Korea is still more collectivist and less individualistic than the West, but they expected this to change.

I then suggested to them that we think of the transition as one toward a global civilization rather than one toward Western civilization, my implicit point being that the West itself is altering under the pressure of globalization -- though global culture is being most powerfully influenced by Western ideas.

Well, I could go on and on, but I did say that I'd blog briefly, so I'll leave my thoughts at that.