Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Richard Swinburne: "The Violence of the Old Testament"

Richard Swinburne

I recently watched an interesting video -- made available by an Australian institute called the Centre for Public Christianity -- presenting a talk by the Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne as he explicates a Christian view on "The Violence of the Old Testament" (hat tip Paul Raymont).

I thought that this video might be interesting for readers here at Gypsy Scholar since my blog has often delved into the contemporary problem posed by Islamist violence in Islam. Christianity itself has at times had similar problems with violence, as perhaps every religion has, and Christian scripture itself even contains a number of problematic passages that present violence as having been condoned by God and men, so understanding how the Church Fathers dealt with such violent passages, in arguing for inclusion of the Old Testament as a Christian document, might be useful in considering the problem of violence in Islam.

Anyway, here's an edited transcript that I've copied down to record most of Swinburne's remarks in this video, "The Violence of the Old Testament":
[T]he first thing to understand about the Old Testament is why we've got it, and the objection that it depicts a vindictive God is one which was well known to Christians before they took the Old Testament as a Christian document. And there was a priest called Marcion at the end of the second century in Rome who said the Old Testament isn't a Christian document at all. We should not use it as that purpose. We ought to have just the New Testament, or just certain parts of the New Testament. So, there was a battle about whether the Old Testament should be included. In the end, it was those who wanted it included who won.

But what is interesting is the reason why, or the conditions under which, they got it accepted. And the leader of the party who wanted it accepted was Irenaeus, and he said that we must understand this document not just as a -- or [not] always as a -- historical document, but as [a document] having deep metaphorical meaning. And it was with that understanding that the Old Testament was adopted as a Christian document. And what that means is that quite a lot of the parts which seem to suppose that God is vindictive in some way have to be understood rather differently as making a quite different metaphorical claim.

The example I always use is Psalm 137, verse 9, where the psalmist pronounces a blessing on those who take the children of the people of Babylon and smash their heads against the rock. And Babylon, as I'm sure my hearers know, is where the people of Israel, or the leaders of the people of Israel, were exiled to in the 6th century [BC]. And many of the Christian theologians, the Fathers, said that we can't possibly take this literally because this is not a Christian sentiment. And so, how are we to understand it?

Well, they had a big program of how you understand the Old Testament. For example, talk about Babylon was talk of [metaphor]. Babylon was [understood as] a bad place, and so it was talk about wickedness and the powers of wickedness. The rock stands for Christ. Christ said that he would build his church on the rock, and he who builds on the rock will be saved. So, we are to understand this as telling us that the people who take the children of Babylon -- and the children of Babylon were meant to be the desires in us which come from wickedness -- and smash them against a rock, the rock of Christ, are indeed blessed. So, it's nothing to do with -- they were saying, the Fathers who interpreted this were saying -- it's nothing to do at all with literal Babylon. It's telling us to smash our bad desires against the rock of Christ, which is of course a truly Christian sentiment. And a number of the Fathers gave -- indeed, the most influential ones -- gave this interpretation.

Now, from our point of view, this sounds crazy. It's not what it meant, that [is,] it's not what the people who first wrote it meant. Well, maybe, maybe not. But what we have to realize is that the meaning of a text changes according to the context in which you put it. That is to say, the Old Testament was formed in a way that, first, there were little bits, say Psalm, or some of Psalm 137, and then these were put together into larger bits, perhaps a chunk of the Psalms, and then this was put into a larger bit still, and then into yet larger bits. And when you use a bit of the text that's been written by one person, and you compile a different book which uses that text, you don't mean the same as the person who first wrote it. You mean what it means in the larger context.

And so, this verse -- and this applied generally -- has to be understood in the larger context. And the larger context for the Christian is the whole Bible itself, including the New Testament teaching. So, it has to be understood in the light of the New Testament teaching. It may not have been what the first author meant by it, but it's what quite a number of the different authors in the subsequent development of the work meant by it. And therefore, that is what it must [mean], what a Christian must understand [by] that, and it was with that sort of way of understanding [Old Testament] scripture that scripture became a Christian document.
This allegorical method is of obvious use for transforming a horrific sentiment into its opposite. The verse apparently doesn't mean that one should kill Babylonian children but that one should 'kill' the desire to do anything evil . . . such as an evil desire to kill Babylonian children. I wonder what Swinburne does with the doctrine of eternal damnation in Hell. More to the point that I'd like to make today, however, I wonder how Swinburne would reinterpret biblical passages on "holy war," such as the following:
Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy (charam) all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Samuel 15:3)
This apparently genocidal verse purports to be a direct command from God (cf. 1 Samuel 15:2), so it poses a sharper hermeneutic difficulty. Fortunately, it's not a general teaching about how to conduct warfare. It applied to a specific attack and what the Israelites were supposed to do in that particular case, but it's nevertheless a pretty horrific command and doesn't appear to reflect well on the character of God. I'd therefore like to see how Swinburne handles it. I have some notion of how he'd go about reinterpreting it, of course, but I'd still like to see him do it.

Clearly of crucial importance for Swinburne's approach to hermeneutics is what happens to constitute the relevant context. Swinburne points to the New Testament, and in a later part of the same video, he specifies the especially pacific teachings of the New Testament's Sermon on the Mount.

Given that Swinburne is a philosopher, I'd guess that he also would appeal to the larger context of a philosophical understanding of God's character as omnibenevolent and the benevolent consequences that follow from such an understanding.

Islam might also benefit from applying contextual hermeneutics to violence in the Qur'an, but my impression is that such an interpretive approach will prove more difficult since Islam does have a doctrine of warfare and since Muhammad himself served as a military leader and stands as a moral exemplar for Muslims. Moreover, Islamic theology seems quite different from Christian theology. For Islam, God often appears to be understood as pure will unrestricted by anything, thereby leaving a philosophical appeal to Allah's character unmoored.

But I'm no expert on that . . .

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Sun-Ae's Blind Love for Devilishly Handsome Me

Sun-Ae and Me

After seeing this photograph recently sent by Cousin Martha from Uncle Woodrow's Ozark farm, an old mystery was solved as I finally realized what Sun-Ae saw in me.


She's obviously blind, poor thing, as you can better see by clicking on the image twice. Odd that I'd never noticed before, but pictures don't lie. She apparently took my devilish character -- must've been the pitchfork -- as evidence of devilish good looks. I reckon I've been just a fiendishly handsome figment of her imagination.

But if I'm imaginary, who the pitchforking hell is blogging this stuff? Oh. Right. You see that there plain-looking handyman in the photo above . . .

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Malise Ruthven on Paul Berman: Wrong about 'Islamofascism'?

Paul Berman
Photo by Timothy Lu

I've often relied on Paul Berman's research into sources of current-day Islamism, particularly for his findings on anti-modernist Western sources. Recent commenter Nathan Rein, however, has linked to a critique of Berman's research by Malise Ruthven.

I've taken a look at that link and seen that Ruthven, in his article "Righteous & Wrong" for The New York Review of Books (August 19, 2010), takes issue with Paul Berman's argument that Nazi antisemitism entered into Arab and Islamist ideology via Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who had cooperated with the Nazis during the Second World War:
[After the end of World War II,] Hajj Amin received a hero's welcome on his arrival in Egypt, where he renewed his connections with Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom he had previously supplied with funds from Nazi Germany and ideas for SS-type military formations. The Brotherhood proved fertile soil for the Nazi bacillus. As a result of Hajj Amin's return, Berman concludes, "the Arab zone ended up as the only region in the entire planet in which a criminal on the fascist side of the war, and a major ideologue, to boot, returned home in glory, instead of in disgrace."

Planet Berman evidently excludes India, where Subhas Chandra Bose, who broadcast anti-British propaganda for the Nazis before creating the Indian National Army to fight with the Japanese, is now honored in the pantheon of national heroes in Delhi's Red Fort. It also excludes Finland, where Gustaf Mannerheim, commander of the Finnish forces that fought with the Germans against the Soviets and volunteered recruits for the Waffen SS, was elected by parliament to serve as the country's president from 1944 to 1946. In 2005 he and his predecessor, Risto Ryti, who served a ten-year prison sentence for allying Finland with Nazi Germany, were voted the country's top two national heroes in a survey by the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Berman, however, is not to be bothered by inconvenient truths that might arrest the flow of his rhetoric. His vision is crassly ideological: facts that might interfere with his argument -- such as al-Banna's stated belief that Nazi racial theories were incompatible with Islam, as well as other complicating factors -- are liable to be discarded or ignored.
Aside from the dismissive reference to "Planet Berman," Ruthven is right to call attention to Nazi influence upon other figures who went on to postwar fame, but I don't see how this detracts from Berman's point about the pervasive influence of Nazi ideology upon postwar Islamism. Nor do I agree that Berman's "vision is crassly ideological." Berman is a man of the left, but he seems to be going against the grain of leftist thinking these days, so what 'crass ideology' does Ruthven mean? Besides, Berman does note that Nazi racial theory posed problems for German foreign policy in the Middle East:
Everything about the Nazi doctrines was bound to seem a little different, viewed from the Middle East. Nazi racial theory consigned the Arabs, Turks and Persians to lower rungs of human status . . . . German diplomats in the Middle East dutifully reported back to the chancellery in Berlin that Arabs, Turks and Persians responded poorly to this sort of thing. Nazi doctrine on the Jews doubled the problem. The Jews seemed biologically loathsome, in Nazi eyes, because the Jews were deemed to be Semites -- but unfortunately for German diplomacy, the Arabs, being cousins of the Jews were likewise deemed to be Semites. (Berman, Flight, pages 61-62)
I'd need to re-read Berman's Flight of the Intellectuals to see if he specifically notes that Hassan al-Banna considered Nazi racial theory to be incompatible with Islam, for I don't recall all the factual details of Berman's book. However, the citation above should be sufficient to demonstrate that Berman is aware of the issue.

Ruthven does, however, point to an important possible re-reading of the famous exchange between Sarkozy and Tariq Ramadan, the exchange in which Ramadan called for a 'moratorium' on stoning but which Sarkozy and, later, Berman condemned for not going far enough. Ruthven notes that Ian Buruma sees things differently:
In his most recent book, Taming the Gods, Ian Buruma puts an entirely different gloss on the episode, following France's leading scholar of modern Islamic movements, Olivier Roy, in suggesting that Ramadan's position represents a stage toward secularization. By leaving a religious law for discussion without actually applying it, he is effectively dissociating religious doctrine from political or social practice. As Roy has suggested, a moratorium "maintains orthodoxy while enabling the believer to live in a society governed by laïcité." Roy's position is evidently based on the idea that consensus -- one of four canonical "roots" of Islamic law -- is a precondition for change, a view that Berman entirely fails to consider.
This is a potentially valid point about Ramadan's position as "a stage toward secularization," and it's something that I've also considered in thinking about Ramadan, though Ruthven has here expressed it better than I could have. But I disagree that "Berman entirely fails to consider" this possibility, for Berman discusses Ramadan's later suggestion of so-called "fatwa committees" that would reconsider various Islamic laws and issue scholarly opinions. Reconsideration of stoning, for example, sounds like a good thing, but I wonder what Ramadan would do if the consensus of Muslim scholars still insisted upon stoning. Would he agree that such a consensus is 'incumbent' upon all Muslims? Stoning approved, moratorium lifted? In fact, drawing upon Berman, I've already posted on the problems posed by Ramadan's proposal of "fatwa committees," given one of the proposed Islamic scholars to be included:
Who would the Islamic scholars be? Prominent among them would be Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a well-known 'moderate' Islamist. He would be consulted as an expert, e.g., on women's rights. Berman offers the ironic suggestion that Qaradawi's qualification for this position stems from his role as "the scholar who issued the fatwa permitting Palestinian women to dispense with hijabs while committing [acts of] suicide [terrorism] -- an advance, presumably, for 'Islamic feminism'" (Berman, Flight, page 238).
In sum, then, while Ruthven raises some valid points and is worth reading, he does not -- in my opinion -- undermine Berman's general demonstration that Nazi antisemitism has come to pervade Islamist, and even larger Muslim opinion on Jews in the modern world, nor does he persuade me that Berman is wrong in his concerns about Ramadan.

And for that matter, Berman has a remarkably complex, nuanced view of Ramadan, which can be found in a fascinating interview conducted by Michael Totten, for those readers with time and interest.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Elham Manea on Sharia . . . Versus Imam Rauf?

Dr. Elham Manea

Born in Egypt in 1966 and educated in Kuwait, Yemen, the United States, and Switzerland, Dr. Elham Manea earned her PhD in Political Science from the University of Zurich in 2001 and has a postdoctoral position there in the Institute of Political Science. According to an article in MEMRI, "Yemeni-Swiss Liberal: The Shari'a Is Unjust," Dr. Manea recently offered -- in a number of papers -- some frank words about sharia, so I've abstracted the following:
The shari'a, as it is viewed and implemented by all the theocratic Islamic regimes of our times, is unjust . . . . I say this unequivocally because the time has come to call things by their proper names: a theocracy that applies the precepts of the shari'a to [its] society today [is one that] violates individual rights, discriminates between its citizens, and oppresses its women and its religious minorities . . . .

It is unjust to chop off the hand of a thief and cripple him for life. Such a punishment [may] have befitted the society of the seventh century. Nowadays, without question, it is a heinous penalty . . . . Chopping off a [thief's] hand renders him disabled for life and a burden on society, as he is unable to work. Therefore, [let me] say explicitly that it is illogical to preach the implementation of such physical punishments. Punishments of this sort are outdated . . . .

The best example of [the injustice in the shari'a] are its laws regarding women . . . . The Koranic passages relating to women regard them on two [different] levels: according to one, man and woman are equal before Allah . . . . According to the second, a woman's legal rights and obligations are not equal to those of a man. This inequality is manifest in [laws of] divorce, in a man's [entitlement] to the sexual enjoyment of a woman whenever he likes [and regardless of her will], in [laws of] polygamy -- [allowing a man] up to four wives, in addition to concubines . . . . in [laws of] inheritance, in testimony, in the beating of a 'shrewish' woman in order to discipline her, and others . . . . [Islamic law] raised the status of the man, and lowered the woman to an inferior social degree . . . .

[Shari'a expert] Dr. Su'ad Saleh . . . said, in response to a question . . . about the right of a Christian Egyptian to serve as the country's president, that it was forbidden, from both a religious and a political standpoint, for a Christian ever to serve as president. In this she relied upon the Koranic verse, "Allah will by no means give the unbelievers a way against the believers" [Koran 4:141] . . . . This was not enough for her, and she [added]: 'There is no escaping [the fact] that the Muslim will rule over the infidel, and not the other way around. That is why Allah permitted marriage between a Muslim man and a non-Muslim woman, and not vice versa, because in marriage it is the man who is in charge, just as . . . guardianship . . . [over the children] is awarded to [the parent] with the superior religion and not [that of] the inferior' . . . .
Dr. Manea, who is critical of all such views inspired by sharia, expresses an opinion almost exactly like my own, and I'd be more reassured if 'moderates' like Imam Rauf would speak out with similar clarity. My problem with the imam is that I'm really not certain where he actually stands when he says the following on his Cordoba Initiative website concerning his Sharia Index Project:
After two years of work, the Sharia Index Project's working team of Sunni and Shi'a legal scholars from Morocco to Indonesia achieved consensus on a final structure on philosophy, methodology, and approach to providing the general public, opinion leaders, and state officials in both the Muslim and Western worlds with an Islamic legal benchmark for measuring "Islamicity" of a state.
Measuring a state's 'Islamicity'? I wonder how Iran's Islamicity would measure up, given Imam Rauf's advice to Obama on the same Cordoba site:
[Obama] should say [that] his administration respects many of the guiding principles of . . . [Iran's] 1979 revolution -- to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, that establishes the rule of law.
As noted in my blog entry of three days ago, Imam Rauf acknowledges that "Vilayet-i-faqih . . . means the rule of the jurisprudent . . . . [and thereby] institutionalizes the Islamic rule of law," i.e., sharia. Now, I don't know what sort of sharia ranks high in Islamicity according to Imam Rauf's Sharia Index, but his seemingly positive words about Iran's rule of Islamic law don't especially reassure me.

I recognize, however, that the situation of Islam in our global society presents a complicated problem for truly moderate Muslims who genuinely wish to reform Islam and bring the religion into consonance with modern conceptions of human rights. Such Muslims sometimes take the approach of Elham Manea and denounce sharia, hoping to galvanize -- or perhaps at least shame -- fellow Muslims into pressing for liberalization. Or they can take a different, more subtle approach, nominally speaking in positive words about sharia even while transforming its substance to exclude anything that conflicts with human rights.

Is Imam Rauf taking the latter approach?

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Christine Brim on Imam Rauf: Admirer of Qaradawi?

Christine Brim

Through a sequence of links too tedious to hat-tip, I came upon a web entry by a certain Christine Brim at Andrew Breitbart's website. I've heard of Breitbart, though I don't recall precisely where, but I know nothing about Ms. Brim, who says this about Imam Rauf:
"[J]ihad-supporter Sheik Qaradawi . . . [is] so admired by Imam Rauf."
If Rauf admires Qaradawi, then that is problematic since the latter supports suicide bombings against Israelis, as I noted in a recently posted blog entry about Qaradawi based on Paul Berman's information.

But when I check the link provided by Ms. Brim, I find a New York Times article by Laurie Goodstein from October 12, 2001, "Muslim Scholars Back Fight Against Terrorists," which reports on Qaradawi's fatwa allowing Muslims to join non-Muslims in the fight against terrorism. In that article, Imam Rauf is quoted by Goodstein as stating:
"This fatwa is very significant. Yusuf Qaradawi is probably the most well-known legal authority in the whole Muslim world today . . . . The armed forces of other countries now have behind them a legal standing in the eyes of a noted legal authority to be part of the coalition against terrorism."
Based on this quote alone, I'd say that Ms. Brim appears to be rather overstating the significance of Rauf's words, which seem simply a statement of fact, not necessarily an expression of admiration.

Like many individuals, including Christopher Hitchens, I am curious about the character of the man pressing for this mosque near Ground Zero. Imam Rauf might be a supporter of sharia down to its hudud penalties, for all I know.

But I don't know, and I'd therefore like to see a good deal more rigor on the part of individuals like Ms. Brim in their reports on Imam Rauf. I've not checked her other links, but her apparently exaggerated remark about Rauf in this instance leads me to distrust her larger judgment.

However, I'll check further into her evidence and report back if I find something blogworthy.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Christopher Hitchens on the 'Ground Zero' Mosque

Christopher Hitchens
Photograph by John Huba
(Image from Vanity Fair)

As can be seen from the photo above, Christopher Hitchens is suffering side-effects from the chemotherapy that he's undergoing as treatment for his cancer, and he writes about this in an article, "Topic of Cancer," for the September 2010 issue of Vanity Fair:
The oncology bargain is that, in return for at least the chance of a few more useful years, you agree to submit to chemotherapy and then, if you are lucky with that, to radiation or even surgery. So here's the wager: you stick around for a bit, but in return we are going to need some things from you. These things may include your taste buds, your ability to concentrate, your ability to digest, and the hair on your head. This certainly appears to be a reasonable trade.
The tradeoff so far appears to be mainly hair loss since Hitchens is still quite lucid in his powers of concentration, as is also apparent from another article that he's recently penned for Slate, a piece titled "A Test of Tolerance" (August 23, 2010), for he raises there some clear-headed, pertinent questions about 'tolerance' in Islam(ism) in response to those who defend the proposed 'Ground Zero' Mosque against its sometimes vociferous critics:
Emboldened by the crass nature of the opposition to the center, . . . defenders [of the mosque] have started to talk as if it represented no problem at all and as if the question were solely one of religious tolerance. It would be nice if this were true. But tolerance is one of the first and most awkward questions raised by any examination of Islamism. We are wrong to talk as if the only subject was that of terrorism. As Western Europe has already found to its cost, local Muslim leaders have a habit, once they feel strong enough, of making demands of the most intolerant kind. Sometimes it will be calls for censorship of anything "offensive" to Islam. Sometimes it will be demands for sexual segregation in schools and swimming pools. The script is becoming a very familiar one. And those who make such demands are of course usually quite careful to avoid any association with violence. They merely hint that, if their demands are not taken seriously, there just might be a teeny smidgeon of violence from some other unnamed quarter . . .
Hitchens elides from Islamism to Islam in this passage, but he's making a subtle point, I think, on the difficulty of cleanly separating the two, for Islam itself too often elides into Islamism as we find so-called 'moderates' to be less than moderate. Hitchens thus wonders aloud about the moderate Imam Rauf, first quoting the imam's earlier advice on how President Obama should treat Iran:
He should say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution -- to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, that establishes the rule of law.
About this, Hitchens remarks:
Coyly untranslated here (perhaps for "outreach" purposes), Vilayet-i-faquih is the special term promulgated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to describe the idea that all of Iranian society is under the permanent stewardship (sometimes rendered as guardianship) of the mullahs. Under this dispensation, "the will of the people" is a meaningless expression, because "the people" are the wards and children of the clergy. It is the justification for a clerical supreme leader, whose rule is impervious to elections and who can pick and choose the candidates and, if it comes to that, the results.
Narrowly construed, Hitchens is correct to note that the expression Vilayet-i-faquih is here untranslated, for in the passage quoted from Imam Rauf, it is untranslated, but more broadly considered, Hitchens is not quite right on this point, for in the text from which Imam Rauf's quote is lifted, the imam has already translated the expression:
After the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took the Shiite concept of the Rightly Guided Imam and created the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, which means the rule of the jurisprudent. This institutionalizes the Islamic rule of law. The Council of Guardians serves to ensure these principles.
But Hitchens is still correct to note that this "rule of the jurisprudent," which "institutionalizes the Islamic rule of law" -- two euphemistic juridical expressions along the lines of "lapidation" -- really means "that all of Iranian society is under the permanent stewardship (sometimes rendered as guardianship) of the mullahs," thereby rendering "the will of the people" void of any substance. Hitchens therefore rightly observes:
I do not find myself reassured by the fact that Imam Rauf publicly endorses the most extreme and repressive version of Muslim theocracy.
And Hitchens is equally justified in expecting Imam Rauf to answer a few questions:
I would like to see Imam Rauf asked a few searching questions about his support for clerical dictatorship in, just for now, Iran. Let us by all means make the "Ground Zero" debate a test of tolerance. But this will be a one-way street unless it is to be a test of Muslim tolerance as well.
And that would need to be tolerance by Western rather than by Islamist standards . . . or even than by Islamic ones, depending on which camp the imam belongs to. I'm assured by many, of course, that Imam Rauf is a moderate, and perhaps he is, but the statements of his that I've read appear opaquely ambiguous to me in the way that Tariq Ramadan's suggestion of a moratorium on stoning is ambiguous. When Imam Rauf advised Obama to respect the institution of the Vilayet-i-faqih established by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, perhaps he was offering purely pragmatic advice on dealing with a bitter foe with whom one must negotiate. But what if he truly believes in the supremacy of sharia (i.e., "the Islamic rule of law") as interpreted and enforced by the "rule of the jurisprudent"? That wouldn't be very moderate, would it? Would Imam Rauf's views then respect the will of the American people?

I'm with Hitchens on this. Let's pose a few "searching questions" to this imam about his fundamental religious views to see if we can locate his own personal 'ground zero'.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ozark Images: Bookends

Strictly speaking, the photographs below aren't from the Ozarks, but let's be flexible since they do provide bookends to the trip.

The former shows Sa-Rah and En-Uk cutting up for a photo-op on July 21, 2010 in an airport somewhere underway to the Arkansas Ozarks. Both are energetic and humorous . . . in an understated manner.

The latter depicts En-Uk and Sa-Rah upon their return flight from the Ozarks on August 20, 2010 in yet another airport -- En-Uk exhausted and Sa-Rah hungry.

Despite their altered appearance, we're assured by the Delta 'flight bag' that they do "FEEL BETTER." That's comforting.

I reckon that this trip, whether actual or vicarious, is finally over and that I must now return from my nostalgic vacation to such pressing matters as Islamist agitation, North Korean provocation, and South Korean education.

Such -tions, I can no longer shun . . .

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ozark Images: More of Uncle Woodrow's Farm

Cousin Martha sent along a few photographs that my wife had taken using Aunt Pauline's camera after the battery in our own camera had run down, so I suppose that we're still on a vicarious vacation.

Here's Uncle Woodrow posing before a fireplace that doubles as a bookcase -- books are read over the summer and burned as fuel throughout the winter. But only the fuel-ish books.

As I've previously noted, he looks quite good for 83 years . . . as does Aunt Pauline, posed in her rocking chair below.

En-Uk poses in the next photo with a great big mess of great big catfish -- six all together, of which he caught five!

Feeling his wild oats, En-Uk pitches in to try his hand at farming. Or at alarming sister Sa-Rah, who appears just about ready to achieve lift-off.

I quickly put a stop to that horseplay by confiscating the pitchfork. Horace-play instead from now on . . . which is mostly wordplay, as you may already have suspected.

All too soon comes the time to say good-bye to Uncle Woodrow and Aunt Pauline in their nearly iconic, but mostly ironic pose.

The pitchfork, at any rate, is now securely in safer hands, and farmwork by the sweat of one's brow can proceed without En-Uk's agronomic devilry.

Perhaps just a bit more vicarious vacation tomorrow . . .

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Ozark Images: Dusk Falls the Penultimate Eve

On the last evening before we left the Ozarks, we took time to visit the town branch just a few hundred yards up from where it joins South Fork River. To get there, we drove various vehicles across bumpy neighboring farmland. My daughter, Sa-Rah, steered brother John's golf cart. Yes, golf cart. In the Ozarks. But it's a hillbilly golf cart and thus seems to be used more at an all-terrain vehicle.

My son, En-Uk couldn't bear to watch! Well, perhaps a little bit . . .

The moon goddess Diana kept attentive watch on all that transpired . . . though she, too, was partly absent (whether yet waxing or already waning, I know not).

We all managed to reach the creek in a still bright twilight. Shan and Shoshanna evaluate the water's status . . . is it safe? Secure enough for wading?

Shan stands in judgment as brother John takes a closer look. I approach the metaphorical bench.

John's daughter, Crystal, joins the judging team. In the distance rises the partially obscured Salem Knob, though less impressive from here than its vertical height warrants.

As the dusk deepens, Sa-Rah turns to skipping stones . . . and gets her feet wet.

En-Uk and Shoshanna join in the search for flat, skippable stones as the wading begins in earnest.

John shares a father-daughter moment with Crystal as they smile upon the watery antics.

And Sa-Rah decides to finally capture our hearts!

Enter net? Darkness has fallen. Time to return home . . .

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ozark Images: Sylamore Trip

Readers will recall that as I was leaving Seoul on August 7th to join my wife and children in the Ozarks, I promised scenic vistas like this one below, borrowed from the Buffalo River website of Tim Ernst.

Well, the time has come to fulfill that promise with unborrowed photos. What follow are images from our penultimate day in the Ozarks, when we took a drive with my brother Shan and his wife Shoshanna through the White River's Sylamore Hills, which start just outside of Melbourne, Arkansas, the area around where my maternal grandmother grew up, some 25 miles south of my own hometown of Salem.

In the photograph below, you see Shan, En-Uk, Sa-Rah, me, and an obscured Shoshanna against the backdrop of a Sylamore Hills vista.

Gaze again, this time without the people, on the vista below, which offers a sense of wooded isolation. Somewhere out there was the cabin of Mary Black, my maternal grandmother's Cherokee aunt. My grandmother told me that Aunt Mary was in her seventies, still had long black hair without a strand of gray, and would sit cross-legged on her cabin floor, having no need of a chair. Grandma was a child at the time, so that would have been prior to World War I, making Aunt Mary born around 1840 or so, I reckon, but that's all that I know about her.

Next comes a photo of Shan and his lovely wife, Shoshanna, again with the vista as backdrop.

Now comes my family's turn, with a rare picture of the beautiful Sun-Ae -- rare because she's usually the photographer.

The next vista appears at a different roadside stop. I find this vista more charming than the other because of the farmland visible a few hundred feet down in the valley below.

Against the same backdrop, another rare image of my beautiful wife . . . though marred by that squinting fellow with the presumptively proprietorial arm enclosing her.

Enough of vistas. We finally reached our destination on the valley floor, the settlement known as Sylamore, founded at the confluence of the White River and Sylamore Creek. The bridge seen in the distance spans the White River, but Sylamore Creek lies closer to us spectators.

As you see below, a bridge also spans Sylamore Creek, which Sa-Rah and En-Uk are investigating.

Below are visible two access roads to the White River, and if I'm not mistaken, these two were originally linked by a ferry, which people used in my childhood to cross the river before the bridges were built.

Here is En-Uk walking past an informative sign identifying this place as the Sylamore Access to the White River.

Uphill from that access point, a Sylamore resident displays a large crawdad caught in Sylamore Creek.

En-Uk keeps a cautious, if intrigued distance from its threatening claw.

At this point, we had to hurry back to Salem in order for Shoshanna to participate in a scheduled conference by telephone, so we had no time for taking more photographs, which would merely have shown the same vistas anyway.

Today's blog entry thus ends here, but I'll post a few more vacation photos in a day or two.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jason Nemec: Another Voice from my Ozark Past

South Pacific

Back in June this year, I found a blog comment from an old high school friend, Jason "Jay" Nemec, a man whom I hadn't seen since the summer of 1976 in my Ozark hometown, as I recalled to him in a subsequent email:
The last time that I saw you was at a rodeo in Salem, and you were wearing a cowboy hat. I've often wondered what you did with yourself after that.
Jay found that amusing and wrote back:
LOL . . . I still have a cowboy hat as well as several pairs of boots, my chaps, and spurs from my rodeo days. I am more into golf and theater these days. Am currently in rehearsals to play Captain Brackett in "South Pacific," and am on the Board of Producers for our local theater company. Got involved with the theater about 14 years ago when my oldest was in some shows, and have now been in or part of almost 20 productions.
What a surprise! I wrote to let him know:
The acting that you mention is . . . unexpected, though not because I ever thought you unartistic. I just never thought about that with respect to any of us!
By "us," I meant "hillbillies like me." Anyway, in a follow-up email sometime later, Jay informed me:
Our play opens next week. We have three weekends of shows, Thursday - Sunday, beginning July 29th, ending August 15th . . . . Our Director is panicking a bit because we still have a lot of set work to do, as well as getting all of the props in place. In fact, I am taking off work this afternoon to get a few things done.
I was happy for Jay but sorry that his tight schedule meant that he wouldn't be able to make a visit to Salem during my time there, nor did I have the wheels for rolling to Rogers, Arkansas, over in the northwestern part of the Ozarks. The farthest west that I got was Mountain Home, Arkansas. Upon my return to Seoul from the Ozarks, I discovered this email from Jay:
Here are links to pictures from our production of the play "South Pacific." The first link has pictures from the entire show. If you choose to view these and are asked for a password, just type in rlt, which stands for Rogers Little Theater. The second link is me yelling at Bloody Mary, the local Tonkinese matron who sells grass skirts and "slunken" heads to the troops.
I asked Jay for permission to post the photo from the second link, and he had no objection, but I discovered that this wasn't possible with the images from the Old Hat Studio website, so I've simply linked as he did. If you click on that second link above -- and you'll probably have to type in "rlt" (standing for "Rogers Little Theater," but also for "real . live . theatre") -- you'll see a tall Captain Brackett bearing down on a short 'Bloody Mary' who appears entirely capable of standing up to him.

Jay mentions the Rogers Little Theater, so I looked up the website, which provided the image for today's blog entry. I also found that the performance took place in the Victory Theater, which dates to 1927 as "the first motion picture theater in Northwest Arkansas." It has since been revived as a stage theater, apparently.

Both websites, the Old Hat Studio website and the Rogers Little Theater website, look interesting, and I feel rather proud to learn of Jay's drama career . . . though I, of course, played no role in that.

I failed to find any reviews, but the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Online noted the upcoming production.

At any rate, congratulations, Jay, and I hope to see you in a performance some day.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Paul Berman on Tariq Ramadan's "Islamic Expert"

Yusuf al-Qaradawi
(Image from Qaradawi Website)

During my trip to the Ozarks, I made time to read Paul Berman's recent book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, which I found very informative on a number of issues related to Islamism, such as the Nazi influence on Islamist antisemitic paranoia.

Also useful was Berman's discussion of Tariq Ramadan, a 'modern' European Muslim who got a lot of attention from a debate with Nicolas Sarkozy in 2003, when he declined to outright oppose stoning women for adultery but instead called for a moratorium on the practice so that it could be 'discussed'.

Discussed in what context? In "fatwa committees," apparently (Berman, Flight, page 222).

Who would be on these committees? Well, both secular and religious scholars, replies Ramadan.

Who would the Islamic scholars be? Prominent among them would be Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a well-known 'moderate' Islamist. He would be consulted as an expert, e.g., on women's rights. Berman offers the ironic suggestion that Qaradawi's qualification for this position stems from his role as "the scholar who issued the fatwa permitting Palestinian women to dispense with hijabs while committing [acts of] suicide [terrorism] -- an advance, presumably, for 'Islamic feminism'" (Berman, Flight, page 238). Qaradawi is also to be consulted on ethics and economics.

Whatever Qaradawi's expertise on the economy might be, he is hardly the man to contribute anything to ethical reflection, but Ramadan remains blind to this:
Tariq Ramadan remains a man who cannot see that a monstrous figure like Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a monstrous figure. "Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one," said the mufti of martyrdom operations in January 2009. (Berman, Flight, 239)
Lest there be any confusion, the mufti (i.e., Qaradawi) was calling on Allah to ensure that the martydom operations (i.e., suicide bombings) succeed in killing every last one of their Israeli targets.

Aside from the dubious suggestion that Qaradawi be called on to contribute to ethical discussions, why should anyone ever want to enhance Qaradawi's standing as a spokeman for Islam? Shouldn't we be turning to more liberal Muslim scholars?

If we can find any with heft in the Muslim community . . .

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ozark Images: Relaxing at Brother John's Home

We're preparing to leave the Ozarks for Seoul, but I still have photographs of the great outdoors to share as soon as my wife uploads them to the computer . . . which won't be for a couple of days. Meanwhile, here are a few scenes showing some of us relaxing at home.

In the photo below, you see my younger and more handsome brother Shannon getting ready to serve himself -- or at least doing something with a napkin. I look as if I'm already eating even though my son, En-Uk, appears prepared to pray. My mother, using her better judgment, ignores me.

In a later, postprandial moment, Sa-Rah reflects on how to measure out chocolate malt with a coffee spoon as Shoshanna looks away from a teachable moment.

In the picture below, you see my half-brother, Matthew Miller, talking with me about country music themes as two of the small children in our family pretend to pack up their own country troubles to trundle them away.

At the same time, En-Uk and one of his cousins study sartorial fashions as Sa-Rah plays classical guitar.

En-Uk later entertains us with one of his special talents . . . monkeying around!

Other photographs are yet to appear, but since we leave today for the airport, several days may elapse before the next post goes up.

Until then . . .

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ozark Images: Mammoth Spring, Arkansas

My extended family and I drove from my hometown of Salem to Mammoth Spring, Arkansas a couple of days ago to see the old town and walk around its enormous spring. You see below an image of my brother Shan's wife, Shoshanna, gazing down the main street in the late afternoon as we were preparing to visit the spring.

But prior to heading down to the spring itself, my wife took this photo of a memorial bench commemorating Junior and Veda McCradic in gratitude for something left unidentified.

Merely a stone's throw away -- assuming that some Cy Young recipient is doing the toss -- we found ourselves confronting the cold river flowing up from that Mammoth Spring in the earth. Good place to fly fish for trout, as the little girl on the rock was presumably doing. Sa-Rah and En-Uk were jealous.

They contented themselves, however, by inspecting a shallow pool for minnows.

My good wife then took a photo of me as I offered a gruff pose with the spring's falls in the background.

Shan and Shoshanna offered a more pleasing image as they posed on the rock islet recently vacated by the fishing girl.

Shoshanna then offered to snap a shot for Sun-Ae so that all four of us could crowd onto the rock and into a photo, an opportunity that seems to have pleased the double-x contingent, but left the y's-guys less than thrilled.

Sun-Ae, however, soon commandeered the camera again and caught the three of us in an unguarded moment as I stood near our children to ensure that they not get swept away by the swift current as they sat on that rock islet dangling their feet in the swirling water.

Below can be seen from a walkway the river flow just below the fall of spring water from the dam, thereby offering a clearer impression of the total amount, some 10 million gallons per hour.

En-Uk and a cousin also stood on the walkway discussing things more or less aquatic.

An interesting group then appeared on the shore that we had recently visited. The individuals were dressed somewhat like the Amish but didn't look German. They were a mixed congregation of African-Americans and Caucasians and maybe some individuals of other ethnicity, all women and girls, wearing long dresses and long-sleeved shirts. The women also wore scarves over their hair. I wanted to return to that shore and ask them what religious group they represented, but since no men were included among them, I chose to leave them in peace.

A different sort of group soon awaited our gaze -- a mother duck with her six large ducklings, all seven paddling along on the spring's surface.

Our attention was then drawn to the old Mammoth Spring Depot, one of the attractions at Mammoth Spring State Park. Trains no longer stop there, so it serves only as a museum.

We ended our walk at a country music concert featuring some old singer who could imitate the voices of various well-known country artists and even mimic their appearance. In the photo below, you see him looking like Willie Nelson and singing "Whiskey River."

And that rounded out our evening at the spring . . .

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