Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Poetry Break: "Duplicity"

If I keep posting these things, I'll have to write some new ones...

This poem, "Duplicity," is actually a song -- a duet, in fact, with the second person echoing the first in the initial stanza and the first person echoing the second in the latter stanza.

As might be expected in such a duplicitous poem, the duplicity runs deep.

Leave, languished love, illicitly,
Leave, one I idolize,
Leave me, all multiplicity,
Leave me to idle eyes.
Leave me to idle eyes.

Come, comfort of complicity,
Come, color of disguise,
Come ink me in iniquity,
Come succor me with lies.
Come succor me with lies.
Copyright (I lie not) 1992. By Horace Jeffery Hodges (also true).

Monday, February 27, 2006

Andrei Lankov replies...

Because Professor Lankov's fascinating article (pdf) on "The Natural Death of North Korean Stalinism" generated a bit of discussion on this blog, I'll post his response to my query about how he would suggest that the world outside of North Korea support:
"small-scale activities ... [that] would help engage the North Korean people and expose them to the outside world."
As careful readers will recall, this was the policy suggestion that Lankov promoted in his article. I had openly wondered about it:
How this policy suggestion would be implemented is left unsaid.
In response to this query, Lankov sent me an email with the following elaborations on how to implement his policy suggestion:
1) Education programs. Invite NK students to other countries, even to do purely technical subjects (of course, economy and social subjects are better). Needless to say, 90% of such students will come from the top elite, but they will see the world anyway.

2) Small-scale investment, joint projects of all kinds which will make North Koreans work together with foreigners. They are afraid of the Americans? Well, why not to send Europeans? The major task is not to open their eyes to the outside world.

3) All programs which either bring foreigners to NK or get N. Koreans out of their country: sport, culture, name it.

4) There should be less unconditional aid. All aid packages should be delivered for particular projects, and all these projects should be chosen according to two major criteria: a) to which extent they help the general population; b) to which extent they promote the understanding of the outside world and modern economy.
When Lankov, observes that "[t]he major task is not to open their eyes to the outside world," I wonder if he meant to write this minus the "not," i.e., "[t]he major task is to open their eyes to the outside world." This seems to make more sense. Perhaps Lankov was thinking: "[t]he major task is not [to Americanize them but] to open their eyes to the outside world."

Anyway, here are some of my quick responses:
1. On the education programs ... as Lankov himself notes, these would primarily help the elite, so this isn't an example of policy points aimed at the larger population. Nevertheless, it's probably a good idea since it would broaden the elite's horizens.

2. Small-scale investments are another good idea, but wouldn't these also end up in the hands of the elite? On this, I'd have to see more details.

3. Programs to get foreigners in North Korea or North Koreans out of the country ... again, a good idea, but wouldn't this also affect mainly the elite?

4. Conditional aid for particular projects is another good idea, but how would this be implemented? The North Korean state controls the distribution of aid, which is used by the state as part of its system of reward and punishment and which therefore runs counter to the development of a market-based economy. How could aid be kept from control by the North Korean state?
These might all be good suggestions, but they mostly seem aimed at the elite, and they're all dependent upon the good will of the North Korean state.

I wonder if we perhaps should be thinking from a different perspective. As Lankov's article shows, the changes in North Korea have come about through unofficial developments. Would encouraging these unofficial developments be possible? I'm thinking primarily of the private markets and of the private cross-border trade with China, which together provide the silver lining to the dark clouds of North Korea's deteriotating command-economy.

But every silver lining has still more dark clouds. The unwanted effect of the North's unofficial trade: economic integration with China, which can pose impediments to the future reunification of Korea.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Christianity Today on Korean Christianity and its Missions

The Robert formerly known as "Marmot" has recently blogged on "Jesus, human rights and North Korea."

I would have put a comma after "human rights" -- but hey, I support free speech, so leave those commas out. Maybe Robert follows British conventions on nonpunctuation...

Anyway, his blog post links to a New York Times article by Norimitsu Onishi, "Campaigning for Human Rights, and Fishing for Souls," reprinted in the International Herald Tribune under a different title, "Christians lead Korea rights drive."

The article, as Robert notes, is "fairly balanced." Onishi chose the right people to accomplish this balance, such as:
... the Rev. Benjamin H. Yoon, who ran Amnesty International's South Korea office for many years before founding the Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights in 1996. It is the oldest private group concerned with abuses in the North.

Mr. Yoon's group is critical of the Christian groups for linking human rights with evangelizing and the South Korean government for failing to speak out on the subject.
As Yoon implies, there's definitely some irony in the Roh administration's position:
During South Korea's military rule, proponents of democratization, including Roh Moo Hyun, now the president and a former human rights lawyer, fought for human rights and "were considered progressive and leftist," Mr. Yoon, 76, said.

"Now, because of the government's engagement policy toward the North, speaking out against human rights abuses in the North is regarded as reactionary and rightist," he said.
But what about the Christians?

Critics ... say that some Christians, while professing their commitment to human rights in the North, are actually endangering the lives of North Koreans through their evangelizing.

The Rev. Kim Tae Hyun, an official with the National Council of Churches in Korea, which supports the South Korean government's low-key approach on human rights in North Korea, criticizes missionaries who send North Koreans living in China back into the North to proselytize secretly. "They are putting the defectors at great risk," Mr. Kim said.

Durihana, a South Korean missionary group that is also increasing its lobbying in the United States, engages in the practice.

"We don't force them to go back," said Chun Ki Won, 50, Durihana's director. "We send only volunteers."

Volunteers. Hmmm ... well, anyone who's been around Korean churches understands what that means. Korean Christianity reflects Korean society -- hierarchical and Confucian. If the 'seniors' favor evangelism, the 'juniors' will volunteer.

But I don't doubt the genuine fervor of South Korean Christians. Some recent articles in Christianity Today focus on the growth of Christianity in Korea and the huge role that Korean churches are playing in foreign missions. Korea currently has more missionaries abroad than any other country except the United States. According to the main article, Rob Moll's "Missions Incredible":
Today, almost 13,000 South Koreans are serving as longterm missionaries in countries around the world.
And the Korean missions movement does send missionaries into dangerous situations:

On May 30, 2004, terrorists in Iraq linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi kidnapped Kim Sun Il, a Korean interpreter. The South Korean native had been working for a year with a South Korean firm that supplied goods to the U.S. Army, an opportunity Kim used as a means of gaining entrance into the country.

Like many Korean missionaries, he was highly educated, holding undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, theology, and Arabic. He was also willing to undertake the dangerous task of working in a war zone.

Kim had a passion for mission work among unreached peoples. Mission experts estimate that 1.8 billion individuals in thousands of ethnic groups remain unexposed to the gospel. South Korean missionaries, in particular, are pioneering projects and methods to spread the gospel in these areas. Korea sends 34 percent of its missionaries to unreached peoples; the international average is around 10 percent.

During Kim's captivity, Zarqawi threatened to kill him unless South Korea scrapped its plan to send 3,000 troops to join the U.S.-led coalition that had toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. The kidnapping took the South Korean government by surprise, and it frantically tried to rescue the captured translator. It also took Westerners by surprise, as the little-known Korean missionary movement was given a face on television screens around the world. Terrorists released video footage of Kim pleading for his life. On June 22, his beheaded body was recovered outside of Baghdad.

Those of us here in Korea recall this atrocity very, very clearly, for not only did it shock all of us, it resulted in very broad censorship of the internet in Korea as the government pressured Korean internet servers into blocking access to entire domains on the internet to prevent Koreans from viewing the online video of Kim Sun Il's beheading, leaving many of us unable to access ordinary blogs that had nothing to do with the video.

I didn't watch the video, having had no desire to see a man have his head slowly sawn off, but I do recall seeing news clips on South Korean television of Kim Sun Il crying and wanting to return to Korea, so he seems to have had second thoughts about his mission call if it included a call to martyrdom.

I'm not criticizing Kim Sun Il. I doubt that I would hold up very well under the merciless hands of Islamist snuff-film directors.

Korea's Christians, however, despite seeing the potential cost of discipleship so unforgetably displayed before their very eyes, remain unfazed. They intend to send 100,000 missionaries to the Middle East ... with the help of Chinese Christians:
Many Korean missionaries work in China, where they help train house-church leaders. David Lee, who has also served as chair of the World Evangelical Alliance mission commission, sees a big role for Korean missionaries in getting Chinese missionaries involved in Korea's Back to Jerusalem project, which aims to send 100,000 missionaries to the Middle East. "If we can somehow assist them in terms of a more modern way of thinking and coping and understanding context and crosscultural communication," he says, "I think they would have a greater survival rate."
Surviving will be a problem since evangelizing Muslims is considered a capital offense in sharia, the traditional Islamic law. So is conversion from Islam to Christianity, which partly accounts for the lack of success that most Western Christian missionaries have had in Muslim countries.

Korean missionaries hope to do better. Anyone interested in this story should read the article, which also has many links to various other articles on mission work being done by Koreans and other Asians. Just click on the article link, scroll down, and keep on scrolling...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Cartoon War Continues...

For those of you still interested ... the cartoon war widens, with cartoonists striking back. Here above is a MAD strike by John Darkow, of The Columbia Daily Tribune, February 10, 2006.

Professor John P. Palmer has also posted this one on his EclectEcon blog, along with still more images from the mighty war between the pen and the sword. Once again, I'm indebted to Egyptian blogger extraordinaire "Sandmonkey," who linked to these images at EclectEcon.

Incidentally, does anybody know of an online history of editorial cartoons? Since they represent a form of free speech and are overtly political, then they must have a history of struggle stretching into the past. I imagine that earlier provocative images also encountered intimidation, and I'm curious how the cartoonists responded.

Wikipedia has a short piece describing editorial cartoons and helpfully distinguishing between two styles: the 'nasti' style and the 'alti' style. The latter "tells a linear story, usually in comic strip format," whereas the former (and aptly named), nasti style usually limits itself to a single frame.

The nasti style, by the way, derives its name not from being "nasty" (though it often is) but from the family name of Thomas Nast, a famous American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist of the 19th-century who drew political images during the American Civil War and the subsequent period of Reconstruction, also turning his satirical pen against Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall, among others.

Nast is just one famous name among many, and Americans will recall that the polymath Benjamin Franklin also tried his hand at political cartooning, including his famous "Join or Die" image of a serpent.

Free speech has a complex history useful for its own defense in today's cartoon war, and the tradition of political cartooning is one to be drawn on (so to speak).

Friday, February 24, 2006

Misreading or Mis-writing?

In yesterday's blog entry, I summarized the argument in Andrei Lankov's recent article (pdf) on North Korea's 'decline' from Stalinist state to authoritarian state, then noted his policy suggestion and raised a question:
Most interesting for me is his policy suggestion, namely, that small-scale economic ventures be encouraged in the North because these would enhance the independence of people from the North Korean state apparatus and increase the population's knowledge of the outside world.

How this policy suggestion would be implemented is left unsaid. North Korea might be no longer Stalinist, but as an authoritarian state, it still has the wherewithal to obstruct official economic ventures from the outside. But perhaps Lankov means unofficial ventures?

Even so, the suggestion is a bit like belling the cat -- who's going to do it?
In other words, I liked the suggestion about encouraging small-scale economic activities that would benefit the North Korean population but openly wondered how to go about accomplishing this.

A reader signed in as "Anonymous" then quoted me but either badly misread me or badly expressed my same question:
"Small-scale economic ventures [should] be encouraged in the North because these would ... increase the population's knowledge of the outside world."

Care to explain how?
Anonymous appears to be asking me if I would "[c]are to explain how" I intend to see the policy suggestion put into effect. I don't know if Anonymous was misreading or mis-writing. Anyway, after a momentary interrobang, I responded to this comment with a comment of my own:
Anonymous, I posed the same question:

"How this policy suggestion would be implemented is left unsaid."

Perhaps we should both ask Lankov.
Probably, I should assume that Anonymous had understood me and was simply repeating my same question but in a way that inadvertently sounded as though it were directed at me even though it was really intended for Lankov.

Okay, I'll assume that. I doubt that Lankov reads my blog, so I'm not anticipating him to respond here, but he does post comments on the blog formerly known as Marmot's Hole, so the question could easily be posted there and likely get a reply from Lankov.

Maybe this has already happened.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Andrei Lankov's North Korean Note

North Korean expert Andrei Lankov, whom you see to the right (photo from Australian National University), has published a very interesting research note (pdf), "The Natural Death of North Korean Stalinism," in the National Bureau of Asian Research's inaugural issue of Asia Policy, Number 1 (January 2006), 95-121. From page 96, here's the official Executive Summary:
This report analyzes the sweeping changes that have taken place in North Korea over the past fifteen years, evaluates the impact these changes will likely have on the fate of the state, and offers implications for U.S. policy.

Main Argument

The last fifteen years have witnessed the gradual wearing away of North Korean Stalinism. The collapse of the centrally planned economy has resulted in the unprecedented revival of small business. The corruption and gradual disintegration of the bureaucracy have led to considerable relaxation of police control. North Korea's self-imposed information blockade has been broken, and uncensored information about the outside world is flowing in. Thus, while North Korea remains under authoritarian rule, the polity can no longer be described as Stalinist.

Policy Implications

*Encouraging the gradual disintegration of Stalinism would help make North Korea more predictable and would pave the way for a democratic transition in the future.

*The new situation has created opportunities to communicate with common North Koreans, opportunities that can be exploited by the outside world.

*Large-scale economic ventures spearheaded by the United States and other foreign businesses in the North would likely only generate income for the elite and could even support nuclear development and other military projects; small-scale activities, on the other hand, would help engage the North Korean people and expose them to the outside world.

Organization of the Essay

An overview (p. 98) of the pre-1990 situation in North Korea is followed by separate analyses of the three main areas of change in North Korea that have occurred over the past fifteen years:

The Information Flows In: 100

The Economic System: 109

Diminishing Political Control: 114

A conclusion (p. 118) summarizes the main points of the report and discusses how the collapse of North Korean Stalinism can be hastened.
A discussion of this article is going on over at Marmot's Hole. I've rather quickly read Lankov's article and found it very interesting.

Basically, his argument is that the North Korean regime lost control of the economy during the famine of the 1990s, when up to a million people starved to death under conditions in which the state could no longer meet the subsistence needs of its population, forcing many individuals to create markets to supply the population's needs. As black-market trading began to take place across the relatively open border to China, many North Koreans began to realize that not only is China wealthier than their own country but that South Korea is wealthier still. North Korean authorities have given up genuine attempts to control free markets, allowing corruption to develop as smugglers bribe guards, police, and party officials for protection or favors. The state is still authoritarian but no longer Stalinist because it has given up its control of every aspect of people's lives and no longer has the means or the will to reimpose this lost control.

Most interesting for me is his policy suggestion, namely, that small-scale economic ventures be encouraged in the North because these would enhance the independence of people from the North Korean state apparatus and increase the population's knowledge of the outside world.

How this policy suggestion would be implemented is left unsaid. North Korea might be no longer Stalinist, but as an authoritarian state, it still has the wherewithal to obstruct official economic ventures from the outside. But perhaps Lankov means unofficial ventures?

Even so, the suggestion is a bit like belling the cat -- who's going to do it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Nigerian Jihad

I've been meaning to comment on Njadvara Musa's Yahoo News report, "At Least 15 Die in Nigeria Cartoon Protest," since it first came out on Sunday:
Nigerian Muslims protesting caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad attacked Christians and burned churches on Saturday, killing at least 15 people in the deadliest confrontation yet in the whirlwind of Muslim anger over the drawings.


[I]t was in Nigeria, where mutual suspicions between Christians and Muslims have led to thousands of deaths in recent years, that tensions boiled over into sectarian violence.

Thousands of rioters burned 15 churches in Maiduguri in a three-hour rampage before troops and police reinforcements restored order.


Chima Ezeoke, a Christian Maiduguri resident, said protesters attacked and looted shops owned by minority Christians, most of them with origins in the country's south.

"Most of the dead were Christians beaten to death on the streets by the rioters," Ezeoke said. Witnesses said three children and a priest were among those killed.
As with the cartoon protests throughout the world, this riot in Nigeria was instigated by Islamists for their own interests. In Nigeria, which is about evenly divided between Muslim and Christian, the Islamist long-term aim is to subjugate the Christian half of the population, and this riot as well as other recent ones there should be recognized as directed toward that goal.

About 15 years ago, when I was living in Tuebingen, Germany, I became acquainted with Daniel P. Bailey, who was doing his doctoral research on the meaning of "hilasterion" (i.e., "mercy seat"?) in Romans 3:25 and who had done mission work in Africa, using his expertise on the Greek text to help in Bible translations. We were discussing Muslim-Christian relations in Africa, and he mentioned the burning of churches in Nigeria. According to Dan, who had seen photographs of the burnt remains, hundreds of churches had been burned to the ground in coordinated attacks. I later spoke with a Catholic priest from Nigeria who confirmed what Dan had told me.

Since the time in the early 1990s that I spoke with Dan and the Catholic priest, Islamists in Nigeria have continued to persecute Christians in various ways, including the implementing of Islamic law (sharia). On this trend, see an article in The Globalist by Philip Jenkins, "Nigeria as a Global Trouble Spot," which also relates that:
In the words of the local Anglican bishop, "Life here is increasingly like living under a jihad."
Why is this happening? According to this article by Joseph Kenny, "The Spread of Islam in Nigeria: A Historical Survey," which was a paper presented at a Conference on Shari'a in Nigeria, hosted by the Spiritan Institute of Theology, Enugu, Nigeria, March 22-24, 2001:
The Shari'a cause, always supported by Saudi Arabia, has long been a convenient device to rally popular support for politicians of questionable character. But which popular support? Shari'a, understood in its most radical sense, has appealed to the young Muslim intelligentia, that is, university students and their academic leaders, many whom learned their ideas from studying in Saudi Arabia or going there on pilgrimage. It also has appealed to the unemployed urban poor who have been persuaded that it is the simple answer to their problems. Whipped up by religious fervour, they are willing to overlook the oppressive policies of their leaders once they don the mantle of a champion of Shari'a.
From this, one can see that the inspiration behind Islamism in Nigeria is the Wahabi Islam learned by Nigerian Muslims who have been educated in Saudi Arabia or gone on pilgrimage there. A similar point was also made to me by an older Muslim man from the Indonesian island of Java. Although he followed the older, more tolerant form of Javanese Islam, he noted that younger Muslims were increasingly influenced by Saudi Islam, which they had learned through education there or while on pilgrimage to Mecca.

This is not happening just in Nigeria, nor only in Nigeria and Indonesia, but throughout the Muslim world because of Saudi attempts to spread Wahabi Islam through education offered to non-Saudis, through indoctrination of Muslim pilgrims, and through the funding of mosques outside of Saudi Arabia. The Wahabi form of Islam quickly presses for sharia and engages in jihad against non-Muslims (or even 'impure' Muslims), with varying degrees of success.

As for the Islamists in Nigeria, perhaps they should look at the conflict in Darfur, in Sudan, to see what they themselves could one day experience if they discover that being Muslim might not be considered quite good enough.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cartoon Controversy: Who's Offending Whom?

Jane Biran, writing from Jerusalem to the International Herald Tribune on February 9, 2006, put the issue exactly right:
One wonders if the Prophet Muhammad would approve of rioting, grievous bodily harm and arson.

If the answer is yes, then a depiction of his followers as violent is justified.

If no, then some of his followers are causing offense to him on a daily basis.
So ... would Mohammad approve, or not? Which is it?

The cartoon "Islam the Tolerant" (February 04, 2006) in the upper right comes from the ironic hand of Canadian cartoonist J.J. McCullough, who notes:
As you can tell from MY cartoon, I personally find it quite ironic that the Muslims are so offended by the [Jyllands-Posten] drawings, considering they were, on par, considerably milder than a lot of the hateful artwork that comes out of the Arab world.
For a sampling of the sort of cartoons that McCullough is referring to, see the Anti-Defamation League's webpage on "Anti-Semitic Incitement: Political Cartoons in the Arab Media." In particular, see this cartoon from the newspaper Akhbar al-Khalij (6/10/2002), in Bahrain, which presents the U.S.A. being controlled by a Jew in stereotypical Orthodox-Jewish garb, who is presented casting a spell translated by the following caption:

The Jew on the right says: "Say: 'I hate the Arabs'!", and the American on the left repeats: "I hate the Arabs, I hate the Arabs".
I'd post the image here, but I haven't yet figured out how to put images at various places in my blog entries. (Help on this would be appreciated.)

Muslims will note that these anti-Jewish images do not caricature any Jewish prophets. Fair enough, but for many non-Muslims, an irrelevant point. Even the starkest Jyllands-Posten image, that of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, is tame compared to these anti-Jewish images from the Arab media.

The violent Muslim reaction worldwide provokes Biran's question: Would Muhammad approve ... or not? A lot of us are wondering.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Scenes we'd like to see:

Muslims peacefully protesting in large numbers against terrorism and theocrats and for free speech and separation of mosque from state (h/t Sandmonkey).

Cox and Forkum's cartoon would then stop being funny and become something to smile about.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Free Expression in Pakistan: "God Bless Hitler"

More confirmation that "Freedom of Expression is Western Terrorism"? Why are Muslims in Pakistan protesting for Hitler? The photo and caption appeared in n-tv.de last week:
Mittwoch, 15. Februar 2006: Karikaturen-Irrsinn, Der Führer in Pakistan

Frauen demonstrieren am Mittwoch in der pakistanischen Hauptstadt Islamabad gegen die Mohammed-Karikaturen. Was genau sie mit dem Plakat sagen wollen, bleibt unklar. (Foto: T. Mughal/dpa)
Translated, that says:
Wednesday, February 15, 2006: Caricature Insanity, The Fuhrer in Pakistan

Women in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, demonstrating on Wednesday against the Mohammad caricatures. What, exactly, they are trying to say with the sign remains unclear. (Photo: T. Mughal/dpa)
I suppose that determining exactly what someone wants to say would involve us in the hermeneutic equivalent of Zeno's Paradox, but I'll take a stab at an approximate interpretation.

The person who wrote the words "God Bless Hitler" in reaction to the Muhammad caricatures probably assumes that any slur against the Prophet of Islam is inspired by the Jews, and since Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews, then God ought to bless him for that.

The sign above expresses, if obliquely, the anti-Jewish prejudices pervading the Muslim world today. These views are often linked to Islamist views about the end of the world, and such Islamist Muslims cite a hadith from the 9th-century-text Sahi Bukhari on "Fighting for the Cause of Allah (Jihaad)":

Volume 4, Book 52, Number 177: Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. "O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him."

Since the word "Hour" is capitalized here, the meaning "end of the world" is implied in this translation (whatever Bukhari may have thought that it meant).

I suspect that behind that sign in Pakistan conveying a blessing upon Hitler lies this sort of endtime thinking. And such views present a grave danger because those holding them not only stare deeply into the abyss of apocalyptic war, they are prepared to leap headlong in.

Such people don't calculate in terms of survival but in terms of eternity. Thanks in part to freedom of expression, we can become aware of their views, begin to perceive patterns in the protests, and reflect on how to respond.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Nomad Tags a Gypsy

I've successfully escaped previous attempts to tag me, but Nomads and Gypsies have a bond that binds, so I guess that I'm caught this time.

The magic number is four ... or maybe six. Six questions requesting four answers. I'll answer four of the questions, sort of. You'll see why ... or at least how.

Four Jobs I've Had

Grit newspaperboy in the Ozark Mountains
Penland Cafeteria Dishwasher at Baylor University
Driving a fully loaded U-Haul with bad brakes while towing a car from San Francisco to Boston
Brewing coffee for UC Berkeley's Stephens Lounge

Four Movies I Watch Over and Over Again

Stop Making Sense
Stop Making Sense
Stop Making Sense
... Making Sense

Four Places I've Lived

And in the Lady's Chamber
... then out on the street after number 3.

Four TV Shows I Watch

Whatever the kids are watching on Cartoon Network

Four Websites I Visit Daily

Site Meter for Gypsy Scholar
Google Search Engine (Advanced)
Free Dictionary

Four Places I'd Like to Be Right Now

Right now? You mean simultaneously? Wouldn't they all have to be the same place?

Okay, Nomad, you've had your revenge for my snarky comments on your Girl Wednesday series. Now, it's my turn.

I tag ... nobody. Aw, what the hell -- I tag everybody in the whole world.

I mean, let's get this thing over with.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Das Wetter ist hell!

James Brush of Coyote Mercury has alerted me to possible "hits from Hell" in response to my previous, Mephistophelian post.

Well, there are already Cash's "Ring of Fire," The Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," Prodigy's "Fire" ... oh, not those sorts of hits. I just thought ... the devil having all the best music, and all...

So, what is going on down in Hell? I haven't located any contemporary images, but on a typical day back in the 12th century, as shown by the above Medieval illustration of "Hell" borrowed by Wikipedia from the Hortus Deliciarum manuscript of Herrad von Landsberg, the weather was none too pleasant. It appears to have been raining fire, a point confirmed by Milton some 500 years later:

... a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum'd

Such was Milton's weather report in Paradise Lost 1.68-69, but that report was already some five or six thousand years old in Milton's time.

Is fiery precipitation the norm for Hell? Not at all. Hell also has the freezing kind:

... a frozen Continent
Lies dark and wilde, beat with perpetual storms
Of Whirlwind and dire Hail, which on firm land
Thaws not, but gathers heap, and ruin seems
Of ancient pile; all else deep snow and ice (PL 2.587-591)

Not the best conditions for any outdoor concerts playing those greatest hits from hell, but the hellish weather at least has some variety.

Aber nie hell.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Poetry Break: "Ozark Spring Storm"

Another poetry break? What gives?

Well, my site meter shows that the number of people recently visiting this blog has risen to unprecedented heights. Since heights make be dizzy, I figured that I'd better post something obscure to drop the number back down.

So ... here's one for theologians with a sense of humor. Maybe it's not so pithy as my joke about the apostle Paul, but it'll have to do for now.

And Phil Harland might like it:
Ozark Spring Storm

Mephisto's cracked the night's hermetic seal,
And shards of light come crashing to the ground.
(In vain the darkest prince had hoped to steal
Unnoticed from these hills without a sound.)
What mischief is he up to now?

Disturbed, my sleep, I listen to him howl
In pain -- it rattles down the window frame
And creaks loose boards beneath the bed. A growl
(A curse?) escapes his lips ("Goddam' my lame . . .") --
His cloven hoof give out again?

Come day, I'll seek what damage he has done,
Inspect it close, evaluate the cost.
On judgment day, he'll surely owe me some --
I'll bargain for my soul and not be lost.
Saved not by grace, but clumsiness.
I wrote this one way back in 1984 (yes, copyrighted) while I was working in Stephens Lounge, a fifth-floor coffee lounge in Stephens Hall for those U. C. Berkeley students who managed to discover it after trudging up steep stairs on their way to something that they likely wouldn't find since most of them had no business in the office above the lounge anyway.

Occasionally, individuals with even less reason to show up ... showed up. But that's another story...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Disturbing Cartoon

The Sandmonkey posted the above cartoon from ... somewhere. Well, as they say, context is everything, and Jihadi Hajji is neither fooled nor above recycling old comments:

Mr. Cartoonist, you will pay for this!

I do not mean in dollars and cents -- though you will pay that also.

I strive passionately to maintain my mental purity, but you have filled my pure mind with this impure image likening a highly valued prophet (I am not fooled!) to nothing at all ... for which there is no profit, but you will soon come to know the high cost!

You will also suffer for the mental images that I already imagine will appear in my mind. Too late, you will regret and apologize. Indeed, your sin is already written in the great book of death. You would need a time machine to get out of this one, for you would need to apologize yesterday for what you will have done tomorrow!

You should never have done what you intend to do with my mental images, but do not think that it was not foreordained that you would think of doing it and receive the proper punishment for thinking of doing it.

Verily, even thinking that would be a sin. Do not think that I have not thought about that though I have not thought it as you were forethought to have thought it.

I think ...

Anyway ... it's all your fault.

Jihadi Hajji

As they don't say, it'd be true if it weren't so funny! Comments welcome, but do follow up the links first.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Speaking with a forked tongue

Ahmad Abu Laban, who took along on his tour of the Middle East three cartoons that did not appear in the Jyllands-Posten, has been caught in a major deception, as reported by the World Net Daily ("'Muhammad cartoon' proved fake," February 8, 2006):
Danish television ... showed him speaking in English ... in condemnation of the boycott of Danish goods, then, in an interview with the Middle East news channel al-Jazeera, happily remarking in Arabic about how well the boycott was going.
If Abu Laban is willing to lie so blatantly about his own views on the boycott of Danish products, then why believe him when he claims that the three extra "cartoons came from threatening letters," especially since we already know that the pig-nosed 'cartoon' was not of Muhammad at all.

He has zero credibility.

Bokbluster: Also not Muhammad

Chip Bok, editorial cartoonist for the Akron Beacon Journal, published the above cartoon and provided his own editorial, both of which have generated an avalanche of emails. Or maybe a blizzard of them. Anyway, some snow metaphor. Here's Bok's brief editorial:
Fair and Bland, February 05, 2006

CNN pixilated the cartoons that set off a world wide Muslim temper tantrum. If the cartoons are a distortion of Muhammad then CNN has distorted a distortion. Guess we'll never know what all the fuss was about.

Most of the mainstream media in the U.S., other than Fox News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the New York Sun, took a pass on showing the cartoons. Editor and Publisher has a story on the media refusal to publish the cartoons.

It seems little arrogant for a religion to demand that the whole world play by its rules. And a little wimpy for most of the American media to go along with it.

Christopher Hitchens considers the incident proof of "an aggressive intent".

Posted by cbok on February 05, 2006 at 12:50 PM
Following this editorial by Bok is a long argument of emails debating Bok's cartoon. The first admonishes him:

Dear Mr. Bok:

I am a retired United Methodist minister. I have preached for over 40 years for interracial, interfaith, intercultural understanding and reconciliation. Alas, your cartoon this morning undid all of that. Your medium has an impact. You have a responsibility to be a positive force in the community. May I introduce you to a few Muslims to help you get over your sickness?

Posted by: Rev. John R. Beaty, February 06, 2006 at 10:55 AM

Which received this answer one week and a couple of hundred emails later:
"I am a retired United Methodist minister. I have preached for over 40 years for interracial, interfaith, intercultural understanding and reconciliation."

It must have been a highly ineffective ministry if a cartoon could undo it all. Perhaps this is God telling you that your talents would have been better spent in other ways -- such as preaching the Gospel.

Posted by: Kickero, February 13, 2006 at 11:00 AM
And that was the tone between Christians! Muslims also sounded annoyed:
As an American born practicing Muslim, I was shocked to see your cartoon. It not only went against my Muslim values, but also my American values of regard and esteem. However, Our Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) taught us to act in kindness and respect to even those who hurt us. It was wrong of you publish that tasteless cartoon and you have offended many by doing so. Speaking on behalf of Muslims -- we forgive you, but also do not want to see anything like this ever again.

Posted by: Dalia Mohammad, February 07, 2006 at 08:53 AM
And the debate goes on for a couple of hundred emails and growing. Well, that's free speech in action, though some of the implied messages can sound ominous. I wonder what Dalia Mohammad meant by this: "we forgive you, but also do not want to see anything like this ever again." Is her ultimate statement an ultimatum? What happens if Muslims do see something like Bok's cartoon again?

I found Bok's cartoon funny. It effectively satirized CNN's self-censorship by illustrating the how the very pixilization of Muhammad's face made the Prophet of Islam look ridiculous. For hypersensitive Muslims such as Dalia Mohammad, Bok's cartoon 'offended' because it was ... 'tasteless.' Good point. Add more spice next time.

And as for the cartoon's putative 'offensiveness,' well this comment provides the best response:
Nowhere in the United States Constitution or the Bill of Rights does it protect anyone from being offended or offended by speech. Non-offensive speech does not need protection under the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the United States of America. No one would try and stop non-offensive speech.

Voltaire said around the time of the Founding of this Country that, "I may disagree with everything that you say, but I shall defend to the death you're right to say it."

Posted by: Beth, February 11, 2006 at 03:12 AM
Exactly ... except for the grammar-offending "you're." Beth's grammatical errors notwithstanding, the Bill of Rights protects free speech, and that includes offensive speech. Those are the rules in America. European states have similar rules.

Islamists want to change these rules. Abu Laban, one of the Muslim imams from Denmark who toured the Middle East to raise protests against the original cartoons, states this aim clearly, as noted by World Net Daily ("'Muhammad cartoon' proved fake," February 8, 2006):
Abu Laban seemed to affirm that in the interview with Fox News, which was noted by Gateway Pundit.

The Muslim cleric told reporter Jonathan Hunt of his demand that Danish leaders "within their abilities and competence and within the concept of dynamism of liberalism to create 'a new set of rules.'"

Hunt: So, you want a new set of rules for the way Western Europe lives?

Abu Laban: Yes
As Bok points out, "It seems little arrogant for a religion to demand that the whole world play by its rules."

Yet that's precisely what the Islamists want not only for Muslims but also from non-Muslims, submission to Islamic rules.

In one word, dhimmitude.

Monday, February 13, 2006


Yet ... I have only two children.

Dennis Mangan has linked here in a recent blog entry and called me a "polymathic professor," for which, I thank him -- though I don't really know much polymathematics.

For instance, I know next to nothing about the Szilassi Polyhedron even though it appears to be important.

I'm more of a sapient sutler of the Lord drifting across monohedral windowpanes -- a controversial master of the subtle schools, perhaps, but no polymath.

Speaking of Sunday morning services, we attended our own yesterday morning and were returning by subway when, along that subterranean route, one of the two successful results of my polyphiloprogenitive proclivities -- specifically, En-Uk, my son -- interrupted my light reading of Bill Vallicella's Paradigm Theory of Existence by proclaiming very loudly in Korean some important thing that set off laughter among our fellow passengers.

I wondered, briefly, what he had said, but not wanting to interrupt everyone's fun, I returned to my reading and forgot about the incident.

Until today.

Over coffee after lunch, I suddenly remembered the laughter and asked my wife what En-Uk had said.

She smiled and told me:

"An old lady asked En-Uk if he has any sisters. He pointed to Sa-Rah and said, 'That there is my sister. Even though she has short hair and looks like a boy, she doesn't have a gochu.'"
I'll let you guess what "gochu" means, but here's a hint: It's used for spicing up both kimchee and life itself.

And it's polyphiloprogenitive.

Images-of-Muhammad Controversy: Pictures in Islam

I've been meaning to post this hadith from Sahih Bukhari since it seems to play a major role in Islamic 'prohibitions' on images:
Volume 7, Book 62, Number 110:

Narrated Aisha (the wife of the Prophet):

I bought a cushion having on it pictures (of animals). When Allah's Apostle saw it, he stood at the door and did not enter. I noticed the sign of disapproval on his face and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I repent to Allah and His Apostle. What sin have I committed?"

Allah's Apostle said. "What is this cushion?"

I said, "I have bought it for you so that you may sit on it and recline on it."

Allah's Apostle said, "The makers of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them, 'Give life to what you have created (i.e., these pictures).' " The Prophet added, "The Angels of (Mercy) do not enter a house in which there are pictures (of animals)."
Bukhari is considered one of the greatest compilers of authentic hadith, so I assume that the isnad for this is considered reliable by Muslims.

I'm no expert on Islam, but knowing something about how religious texts can be used, I'd say that this hadith could be interpreted in various ways.

The most aniconic reading would delete the parenthetical "of animals," which is not in the original text, and take the prohibition to refer to all pictures. This would include even photographs and television images, as one Christian evangelical site points out, citing the strictest Muslims on this point.

Less aniconic readings would attempt to limit the prohibition on images by arguing that the prohibition refers only to the sort of images on the cushion. The line of reasoning could run as follows: The specific images were idolatrous, and the hadith prohibits only idolatrous images. Clearly, such an interpretation might allow all images so long as they are not used for idolatry.

One would need to look at the various schools of Islamic law to know what official, institutional Islam has decided on this issue and how these schools link it to the specific 'prohibition' on depictions of Muhammad.

At any rate, we've already seen that images of the Prophet of Islam pervade the Muslim world, so these schools of law would appear to have been unable to enforce their rulings very effectively.

It seems that they're trying to do so now.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Burka-Clad Guy Commits 'Western Terrorism'

Yeah, a guy. Those are rather manly hands holding that banner up. But I support his right to go drag if that's his 'thing.'

It's all part of self-expression.

So ... what is he expressing? Ah, the banner:
Okay, I think that I understand. You're commiting a terrorist act, and you want to look the part.

More power to you. Next, you need only learn "sarcasm ... dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire," and you'll be as terrifying as Doug Piranha, the more ruthless of the two Piranha Brothers (h/t Llama Butchers).

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Poetry Break: "Anamnestic Dementia"

I know that you're all ready for another one of these poetry breaks.


Okay, so you're not, but I am. This poem -- like "Preteritic Memories" -- was inspired by my reading of Hans Blumenberg's Legitimacy of the Modern Age, but has little to do with Pynchon's epic, Gravity's Rainbow.

It has even less to do with Laurie Anderson's song "Gravity's Angel," though I was listening to this and to her other words back then, in 1984:

Last night I woke up. Saw this angel. He flew in my window.
And he said: Girl, pretty proud of yourself, huh?
And I looked around and said: Who me?
And he said: The higher you fly, the faster you fall. He said:
Send it up. Watch it rise. See it fall. Gravity's rainbow.
Send it up. Watch it rise. See it fall. Gravity's angel.

That was Anderson, for Pynchon.

In 1984, I had recently moved to Berkeley, tired of the commute from Stanford and exhausted from the break-up with my 'significant other' (as we used to say back then and there). Needing to start a new life for myself, I fell into a reading group with Tom Long and Lionel Jensen.

Lionel, I've mentioned before, but not Tom.

Tom had the largest personal library of anybody I've ever known and the most all-encompassing, encyclopedic knowledge of sociological and political theory. He was working on a big project for his doctorate, a metatheory that would peg each theory into its place within a schema of eight-by-eight variables ... or something like that.

Now, this wasn't number crunching, more like concept crunching.

At the time, I was too ignorant to provide Tom with much feedback, but I knew enough to recognize his quiet genius. Yet, he had difficulty sitting down and writing out his thesis. When I left Berkeley for Europe, we lost contact. On a visit to Berkeley years later, I asked Robert Bellah what had happened to Tom. Bellah looked somewhat sad, and replied:
"Tom has fallen off the edge of the earth."
I must have looked puzzled, for Bellah explained,
"We've lost contact. Maybe I didn't give him enough guidance."
I tried internet searches, using Bigfoot back before Google, but no luck. One day, a Berkeley friend, Scott Corey -- who also didn't make it in academics, though he finished his doctorate -- emailed to say that in Cody's Bookstore, he had run into Tom, who was living somewhere in Oakland. Scott had gotten an email address from him, so I sent Tom a message but heard nothing in reply. Perhaps it was a dead end.

If only he had finished writing his thesis, but he just couldn't sit down and do it because he had to keep tinkering with his metatheory. A kind of writer's block, I think.

Yet, Tom wasn't really blocked -- he could stand up and spontaneously present a great lecture on difficult theoretical topics in sociology and make them clear and simple without oversimplifying, which explains why Berkeley's Sociology Department had him teaching the sociological theory courses back in the eighties.

If I had that part of my life to do over again, I'd tell him:
"Tom, I want you to present your thesis to me in lectures. I'll record them all, and when its finished, I'll edit them for you while you go back and provide the sources. That way, you'll get the damn thing written and go on to the brilliant career that you deserve."
I wish that I'd said that back then. But I didn't.

So, here's to Tom Long, wherever he is. He read Blumenberg with me, and he liked this poem:
Anamnestic Dementia

Perhaps we thought he would be with us always here,
And we with him, practicing our maieutic art
Upon one another as some community
Of whores might -- like them, we stalked the marketplace,
Brazenly plying our profession, seducing
Through sweet discursive reasons those more reluctant.
Did we forget the inevitability
Of death, or just not make the morbid inference
So obviously implied by our odd doctrine;
Is it senility afflicts us now -- we are
Born old, and age visibly in this temporal
Stage, and our failing faculty forgets more than
Ever we could recall -- or degeneration
Engendered by disease we picked up in the streets
Of Athens, where epidemic thoughts run their course?

An exotic strain of exoteric regions
In the east has sorely weakened our resistance,
And we succumb to every new influence
In the air, our feverished minds sickly dreaming
Grand systems metaphorically we never dared
Before, suggesting great cosmologies beyond
What once were limits we had set above ourselves.
Incomparable Socrates, of soundest mind,
Suffered hallucinations as death flowed into
His limbs -- we should not expect more lucidity
Than he enjoyed when in those few precious hours
Of life, he presented his virulent vision,
A revelation to us, you may be sure, for
With spastic turning of his head we were returned
Around toward that which once we resolutely spurned.
Jeffery Hodges
Copyright 1984


Friday, February 10, 2006

Finally, those images of Muhammad!

Of course, you've all been anticipating this, wondering when Gypsy Scholar will have the galls to post some of the actual images of Muhammad.

Well, here they are, from page 17 of the Jyllands-Posten. No wonder Muslims are outraged. They must have been instantly infuriated upon seeing these blasphemous images.

Well ... no, they weren't.

And this isn't the Jyllands-Posten.

It's the Al Fager.

And it was published on October 17, 2005.

No outrage until months later. Some Egyptians who recall the images from Al Fager are asking why all the fuss now. I have the above image from Freedom for Egyptians, who has blogged on this: "Egyptian Newspaper Pictures that Published Cartoons 5 months ago" (h/t Sandmonkey).

According to the Egyptian woman who writes Freedom for Egyptians, there has been:
No Danish Treatment for an Egyptian Newspaper

I promised you in my previous
post to bring you the images of the Egyptian newspaper, Al Fager (as pronounced in Egyptian Arabic) that published the Danish Cartoons five month ago on Oct 17, 2005. Here is below the front page where the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) cartoon from Jyllands-Posten was published.

A closer look. The text says in Arabic that a special reportage is inside. Mind you that this is the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. While Muslims are worshipping in this holy month, not a single protest was called in Cairo against Denmark or the newspaper.

Here is an image for page 17 where the whole report was published with 6 cartoons as published in Jyllands-Posten.

The two Egyptian editors, Ahmed Abel Maksound and Youssera Zaharan, from Al Fager newspaper. And from their names I could tell you that they are Muslims and there is no news on arresting them as the case in Jordan few days ago.

Here is the front page with a closer look on the date , Monday October 17, 2005.

Two days ago the editor in chief of Al Fager Adel Hammouda wrote an article expressing his surprise why this war is suddenly launched after 4 months. He indicates as I said in my previous post that it is politically motivated to hide more corrupt issues behind. And he is not apologizing for publishing the cartoons as the Danish newspaper did. Instead, he is proud his paper was first to publish.
As Egypeter ironically asked, posting the question to her blog, "Does this mean I have to boycott Egyptian goods and stop eating molokhaya and stop wearing Egyptian cotton underwear???"

I think that it means that we ought never to believe the Islamists when they tell us how offensive something is to Muslims. What the Islamists really means is:
Submit, dhimmi, to our Islam.
The so-called 'volatility' of the "Arab Street" is a myth. These riots that we've seen have been organized by Islamists and by Muslim states using the 'blasphemy' issue for political purposes.

Even some Muslims, like Reza Aslan, who finds the cartoons offensive, "Depicting Mohammed: Why I'm offended by the Danish cartoons of the prophet" (Slate, February 8, 2006), admit that images of Muhammad exist in the Muslim world:
In fact, the Muslim world abounds with magnificent images of Mohammed.
Aslan tells of finding a Muslim icon in the Iranian city of Qom:
Not long ago, as I was strolling through the sprawling bazaars of the holy city of Qom in Iran -- a city often referred to as "the Vatican of Shiism" -- I came across a cramped, catacomblike shop that sold religious trinkets to tourists. Hanging in the shop's window was a poster depicting what looked like a beautiful young girl with large, bright eyes and a cherubic face lit up by some unseen source of light. The girl wore a loose headdress, like a turban she had carelessly let unravel, from which peeked thick strands of lush, black hair. She looked skyward, her rosy lips parted in a shy smile.

I was thrilled, thinking I had found a poster of the Prophet Mohammed's beloved daughter, Fatima, whose veneration in Islam (particularly Shiite Islam) is matched by that of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism. Most stores in Qom carry prints depicting heroic Muslim figures like the prophet's son-in-law, Ali, or the prophet's grandson, Husayn. But a portrait of Fatima is exceedingly difficult to find.

I rushed into the store and breathlessly asked the shopkeeper how much he wanted for the poster of Fatima hanging in his window.

He clucked his tongue in disgust and shook his head.

"That is not Fatima!" he cried sternly. "That is the Prophet Mohammed!"
This sort of 'girlish' image of Muhammad can be seen online at Mohammed Image Archive: Miscellaneous Mohammed Images (scroll to bottom).

Concerning such images, Aslan notes:
While some Muslims object to these well-known and widely distributed depictions, there has never been any large-scale furor over them for the simple reason that although they depict the prophet, they do so in a positive light.
The word "never" is too strong, since there have been iconoclastic movements in Islam, such as the Wahabi Islam of Saudi Arabia, which has destroyed images, but Islamists have largely ignored these many positive depictions.

And until recently, the Islamists have ignored how foreign infidels depict Muhammad. Why? Well, the foreign infidels weren't dhimmis -- those non-Muslims who submit to the rule of Islam -- so they couldn't be easily silenced. One of the Islamist aims in this controversy is to 'dhimmify' Europe.

Well, I think that we should 'demystify' the Islamists, and with the help of bloggers like Freedom for Egyptians, we can.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Not Another Image of Muhammad!

That's right. It's not.

Andrew Kantor, who writes on technology for USA Today, had provided large, clear reproductions of the Muhammad images from the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, but he has now taken them down with an explanation here. The images can still be viewed at Human Events Online. I'm posting here the image by Lars Refn that you see in the right-hand corner because it's not Muhammad the Prophet of Islam.

That irony seems to have been lost of the imams who toured the Middle East showing the 'twelve' images of Muhammad from the Jyllands-Posten.

Or they didn't care.

Fortunately, someone else did care enough to point this out, along with commentary on the artist's putative cowardice, and paste this on the cartoon's blackboard:

Lars Refn's drawing did not feature "the Prophet" but a Danish schoolboy, Mohammad, who wrote on the blackboard in Persian: "Jyllands-Posten's journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs."

We think Lars Refn is a coward, who does not understand the seriousness of the Muslim threat to free speech.

I don't agree that Refn is a coward and have no opinion on his supposed lack of seriousness concerning free speech. The cartoon simply provides too little evidence for me to infer that much.

What interests me here is that whatever Refn's original intentions, and despite his not having depicted Muhammad the Prophet of Islam, he's now been lumped with eleven others as one who has committed 'blasphemy' by drawing an image of Muhammad.

However, through free speech -- the open posting of the images -- someone noticed that Refn's Muhammad was not the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, just as someone else noticed that the pig-snouted Muhammad that was not one of the twelve Jyllands-Posten depictions was also not Muhammad, and just as someone else noticed that despite what the imams say about Islam not allowing depictions of Muhammad, Muslims themselves have very often done precisely that.

Without free speech, we wouldn't know all these things. Support free speech.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Not an Image of Muhammad!

The blurry image in the upper left, purportedly depicting Muhammad as a pig-nosed man, was one of the three extra images that Danish Imam Ahmad Abu Laban, of the Islamic Society in Denmark, included with the original twelve images from the Jyllands-Posten and took along on an organized tour of the Middle East as 'evidence' of anti-Muhammad cartoons. According to the tour's spokesman, Akhmad Akkari, the three extra drawings were included to "give an insight in how hateful the atmosphere in Denmark is towards Muslims."

When I saw this blurry image several days ago, it looked oddly familiar to me, but I couldn't place it. Yesterday, at lunch with some other Korea University professors, our talk turned to this controversy, and I remarked that I really felt that I had seen the pig-nosed image before.

Now, I know why. I have seen it before, and it wasn't a caricature of Muhammad. According to Neanderman of NeanderNews, the blurry image was:
...not a satire of Mohammed nor any other sacred Islamic figure but a photo of Jacques Barrot, a pig squealing contestant at the French Pig-Squealing Championships in Trie-sur-Baise's annual festival. NeanderNews discovered this photo [upper right], taken by Bob Edme of AP, posted on an August 15, 2005 AP story seen here on MSNBC’s website.
This further lessens the credibility of Ahmad Abu Laban, who has defended his Middle East tour with these words reported by the Telegraph:
"The whole story is about dialogue of civilizations."
Right. Except that one of the dialogue partners sounds decidedly uncivilized.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tariq Ramadan Speaks Out

In an opinion piece "Free speech and civic responsibility," adapted for the International Herald Tribune from an interview with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels, Tariq Ramadan (image to right from Islam Online [9/5/03]) states three main points "to bear in mind about the controversy over the cartoons published in the European media depicting the Prophet Muhammad":
First, it is against Islamic principles to represent in imagery not only Muhammad, but all the prophets of Islam. This is a clear prohibition.

Second, in the Muslim world, we are not used to laughing at religion, our own or anybody else's. This is far from our understanding. For that reason, these cartoons are seen, by average Muslims and not just radicals, as a transgression against something sacred, a provocation against Islam.

Third, Muslims must understand that laughing at religion is a part of the broader culture in which they live in Europe, going back to Voltaire. Cynicism, irony and indeed blasphemy are part of the culture.
I'm not sure what to think about Dr. Ramadan. He's the grandson of Hassan al Banna, an Islamist who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, which pushes for the Islamization of Egyptian society, thus making the Coptic Christians nervous.

Ramadan himself has been accused of secretly holding to Islamist views. Critics have noted that in a 2004 televised debate with Nicolas Sarkozy, French minister of internal affairs at the time, Ramadan declined to condemn Islam's hudud laws, which apply such harsh punishments as amputation for theft and the stoning of adulterers. Instead, he called only for a "moratorium."

The debates were in French, so I don't know if the word "moratorium" was used, but if it was, then Ramadan was suggesting merely a temporary suspension of such punishments as stoning. Now, to put a positive spin on this, perhaps he needed to keep his credibility with Islamists but in his heart of hearts opposes hudud laws. Perhaps, but how can we know?

So when Ramadan states that representing Muhammad in imagery is a clear prohibition according to Islamic principles, does this mean that in Islamic countries, he in principle supports decapitation for those who depict Muhammad but would call for a "moratorium"? Or that he fundamentally opposes decapitation? On this issue, his article remains silent.

Concerning the latter two points that Ramadan makes, I'll make just offer two brief observations. While he may be correct that in the Muslim world, there is not much laughter at other people's religions, there does seem to me to be a lot of ridicule of religions other than Islam. As for Ramadan's remark on European culture, he's right to note the status of irony. I think that the Islamic world could use some, too.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Speaking of Muhammad's Image...

Yesterday, I posted a message from "Muslim" along with my response. In his message, "Muslim" suggested this:
Moreover, why not write about our prophet peace be upon him from true sources? if you really learn about this Prophet, you will see what a mercy he was to mankind.
I replied:
I have read enough of the life of Muhammad to persuade me that "merciful" is not the adjective to choose for describing many of his actions.
I didn't, however, elaborate ... but since "Muslim" did request that I write about Muhammad from "true sources," I'll provide an Islamic story from the Prophet Muhammad's time in Medina, when he was just on the tipping point of grasping power.

Because I'm lazy, and short on time, I'll just copy and paste a passage from a presentation that I gave at Hanshin University in South Korea on the first anniversary of September 11. My talk (available here but more easily read cached) was titled "Striving to Understand 9/11: Religious Dimensions of the Attack," and I attempted to understand how Islamists might turn to Islamic traditions to justify their attacks upon 'infidels':
Doubtless, [in this time of grasping power,] Muhammad would have felt his movement threatened by those he perceived as enemies, and his reported treatment of the Banu Quraizah [-- a Jewish tribe whose mature males were beheaded, its women and children enslaved --] demonstrates an apparent willingness to deal ruthlessly with such enemies. We see this as well in traditional reports of his seeming acquiescence in violence against his critics when his power in Medina was beginning to grow. After an elderly Medinan man named Abu Afak had been killed by a Muslim because he had written poetry that satirized Mohammad, a female poet named Asma' Bint Marwan wrote an angry, even shocking poem to criticize some of the clans and tribes of Medina for following Muhammad:

F**ked men of Malik and of Nabit
And of 'Awf, f**ked men of Khazraj:
You obey a stranger who does not belong among you ....
Do you, when your own chiefs have been murdered, put your hope in him
Like men greedy for meal soup when it is cooking?
Is there no man of honour who will take advantage of an unguarded moment
And cut off [Mohammad]?

Let us clearly and frankly note that Asma' Bint Marwan fully intended her words to incite someone to kill Muhammad, and in the shame-and-honor culture whose values Muhammad and his enemies shared, poetry could be a powerful medium of both praise and insult. Bint Marwan's words had heaped shame upon Muslims and raised a mortal threat against Muhammad that would be difficult for him to leave unanswered.

For his part, Muhammad would appear to have taken that threat seriously. Rodinson, again drawing upon Muslim sources, describes what is reported to have occurred:

[Muhammad] said aloud: "Will no one rid me of this daughter of Marwan?" There was a man present who belonged to ... [her] clan. His name was 'Umayr bin 'Adi .... That very evening, he went to ... [her] house. She was sleeping with her children about her. The youngest, still at the breast, lay asleep in her arms. He drove his sword through her, and in the morning he went to Muhammad.

"Messenger of Allah," he said, "I have killed her!" "You have done a service to Allah and his Messenger, 'Umayr," was the reply. Then 'Umayr asked: "Shall I have to bear any penalty on her account, O Messenger of Allah?" He answered: ["Two goats won’t butt their heads about her."] . . . Then 'Umayr returned to his own clan which was in a great uproar that day on account of the daughter of Marwan. She had five sons. 'Umayr said: "Banu Khatma! I killed the daughter of Marwan. Decide what is to be done with me, but do not keep me waiting."

No one moved. The [Muslim] chronicler continues:

That was the day when Islam first showed its power over the Banu Khatma. 'Umayr had been the first among them to become a Muslim. On the day the daughter of Marwan was killed, the men of the Banu Khatma were converted because of what they saw of the power of Islam.

The move had succeeded. . . . [This a]ssassination . . . is listed by [Muslim] chroniclers among Muhammad's [military] "expeditions."

If this Muslim chronicle is accurate, then Muhammad would seem to have (correctly) understood Asma' bint Marwan's words as a threat to his life and mission, and the fact that the earliest Muslim sources report this and other assassinations that were traditionally considered to have been approved by Muhammad suggests that they shared this assessment of the threat.
My source was Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971), 158–159. Rodinson is quoting from Ibn Hisham, Sira, Das Leben Muhammeds, edited by F. Wüstenfeld (Göttingen, 1859/60), 995 (see: Rodinson, Muhammad, 318, n. 2; 321, n. 6). Ibn Hisham was a student of the Muslim historian Ibn Is'haq, who died about 768. Ibn Hisham published his teacher's biography of Muhammad, which became a classic among Muslim histories (Rodinson, Muhammad, 336). For the specific footnotes to my passage, go to Hanshin website linked to above.

I've attempted to put this story into a context that makes sense of it in terms of Muhammad's shame-and-honor culture, but I don't extend my approval. Basically, as I see it, Muhammad incited and approved the murder of a nursing mother because she had insulted him in a poem.

From reading stories such as this one from early Islam, I replied to "Muslim" in yesterday's blog entry "that 'merciful' is not the adjective to choose for describing many of ... [Muhammad's] actions."

Incidentally, the image in the upper right (from here), whose illustrator was more careful about portraying the Prophet, is also available on the Muhammed Image Archive, which says:

This is a miniature from Siyer-i Nebi, ... [a] Turkish religious biography of Mohammed completed in 1388 and later lavishly illustrated with 814 miniatures under the reign of Ottoman ruler Murad III, being completed in 1595. Many of the miniatures depict Mohammed, and this particular one shows Ali bin Abu Taleb beheading Nasr bin al-Hareth in the presence of Mohammed and his companions.
Ali bin Abu Taleb was the cousin (some sources say uncle) and son-in-law of Muhammad and the fourth Caliph of early Islam, but I don't know of the unfortunate Nasr bin al-Hareth. If anyone could identify him, I would appreciate it.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Images of Muhammad: A Response

My original post on this issue has generated more discussion than any other entry that I've posted here, but my follow-up post has -- so far -- received only a single comment.

This comment was posted by a Muslim who goes by the name "Muslim" and who has his own blog, Beconvinced. Muslim is not an especially active blogger, for he posted his most recent entry about a year ago, on April 01, 2005. From quickly scanning his posts, I see that most if not all consist of reprints from various online documents that proselytize for Islam.

Not -- as Seinfeld would say -- that there's anything wrong with that.

Moreover, Muslim's borrowed postings are respectful in tone, as is his own comment on my blog:
Muslim said...

What was the point of making these pictures of our beloved prophet Muhammad peace be upon him?

In Islam we dont make pictures of any other prophets. We respect all prophets, Jesus, Moses, Abraham. In our religion, even if you made pictures of these prophets, it would be considered a big sin.

We respect all religions, yet why dont the people who drawed what they did respect ours?

Moreover, why not write about our prophet peace be upon him from true sources? if you really learn about this Prophet, you will see what a mercy he was to mankind.
Thank you for your post, Muslim. Let me respond to your points.

What was the point of the images? From my reading of the news, the point was to test the freedom of illustrators to draw images of Muhammad. A Danish author named Kare Bluitgen had written a respectful book about Muhammad for children but could find no artist willing to do the illustrations for fear of the Muslim reaction. Their fear came in the wake of Theo Van Gogh's murder in broad daylight upon a crowded street in Amsterdam by the radical Islamist Mohammed Bouyeri. Van Gogh's offense had been his movie Submission, made with lapsed Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which had criticized the condition of women under Islam and had shocked Muslims by showing the image of a partially naked woman with Qur'anic verses written upon her body. The Jyllands-Posten newspaper, having heard of Bluitgen's difficulty in finding an illustrator and wishing to defend the hard-achieved right of free expression, decided to hold a contest for the best satirical images of Muhammad. Personally, I would not have favored such a competition for satirical images. The same point could have been made more respectfully with nonsatirical illustrations. However, I do support their right to free expression, and that includes the freedom to print the satirical images.

You state that under Islam, Muslims do not make images of Muhammad. Strictly speaking, this is not correct. Many, many such images exist. I posted one of them on my original blog entry and linked to several more (such as the one above from a Persian or central Asian illustration showing Mohammed (on the right) preaching, borrowed from here). Apparently, there does exist a hadith found in Volume 7, Book 62, Nr. 110 of Sahih Bukhari that describes Muhammad condemning depictions of living things, but I wonder if its isnad (chain of transmission) is strong, for Muslims do have images of living things, even images of the Prophet himself. If you -- or somebody -- could explain this to me, I'd appreciate it.

You say that Islam respects all religions. Does it? I don't have the impression that it respects polytheistic religions. Nor do I have the impression that Islam truly respects other monotheistic religions. Jews and Christians are allowed to practice their religions in Muslim lands (except for Saudi Arabia), but does the second-class status of Judaism and Christianity really suggest respect? According to Shariah, the word of a Jew or a Christian has no legal validity against the word of a Muslim. That doesn't seem to confer much respect. Also, I read translations of sermons by imams provided by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), and from what I've read, I find not merely a lack of respect but an open hatred of Jews and Christians.

Finally, on your point that Muhammad was "a mercy ... to mankind," I find it hard to agree. Narrowly conceived, I grant that if Allah really expects of people what the Qur'an and the hadith claim, then Muhammad is a "mercy" for showing the right path, for without that path, there would be only damnation. But I don't see why I should accept the if-clause. Moreover, I have read enough of the life of Muhammad to persuade me that "merciful" is not the adjective to choose for describing many of his actions.

Still, I thank you for your comment, which I found respectful, and I hope that my response has been equally respectful even though we do not agree.