Saturday, September 30, 2006

Lee Harris: Why the Pope Quoted Emperor Paleologus

Lee Harris's 2004 Publication
...unread by me, but it offers a provocative iconic gambit to my post
(Image from Wikipedia)

Lee Harris, in "Socrates or Muhammad? Joseph Ratzinger on the destiny of reason" (The Weekly Standard, 10/2/2006, Volume 12, Issue 3), has offered an interesting analysis of Pope Benedict XVI's controversial lecture. It is not the Pope speaking as Pope "but simply as Joseph Ratzinger, an intelligent and thoughtful man, who makes no claims to any privileged cognitive authority .... [and who] has come, like Socrates, not to preach or sermonize, but to challenge with questions."

Harris notes Ratzinger's provocative quote from Manuel II Paleologus -- "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached" (though I would translate the German expression "Schlechtes und Inhumanes" as "bad and inhumane") -- and he offers his understanding of why Ratzinger chose this quote:
Ratzinger's daring use of this provocative quotation was not designed to inflame Muslims. He was using the emperor's question in order to offer a profound challenge to modern reason from within. Can modern reason really stand on the sidelines of a clash between a religion that commands jihad and a religion that forbids violent conversion? Can a committed atheist avoid taking the side of Manuel II Paleologus when he says: "God is not pleased by blood -- and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature . . . . Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats . . . . To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death."
In Harris's view, Ratzinger's quote was not primarily directed at Muslims but at modern, self-critical, rational Westerners. In effect, he was asking them, "What sort of God would you prefer, one whose nature is supremely rational or one whose nature is absolutely willful?" Now, Ratzinger might also, secondarily, be asking Muslims, "Which sort of deity is Allah?" -- and if so, he has received a preliminary answer -- but he's more centrally concerned with what Westerners think about this.

Harris is an atheist, but he replies to Ratzinger's provocative question by affirming that he prefers a reasonable deity because a religion based upon such a God will produce a community of reasonable individuals:
Modern reason, to be sure, cannot prove scientifically that a community of reasonable men is ethically superior to a community governed by violent men. But a critique of modern reason from within must recognize that a community of reasonable men is a necessary precondition of the very existence of modern reason. He who wills to preserve and maintain the achievements of modern reason must also will to live in a community made up of reasonable men who abstain from the use of violence to enforce their own values and ideas. Such a community is the a priori ethical foundation of modern reason. Thus, modern reason, despite its claim that it can give no scientific advice about ethics and religion, must recognize that its own existence and survival demand both an ethical postulate and a religious postulate. The ethical postulate is: Do whatever is possible to create a community of reasonable men who abstain from violence, and who prefer to use reason. The religious postulate is: If you are given a choice between religions, always prefer the religion that is most conducive to creating a community of reasonable men, even if you don't believe in it yourself.
For Harris, the choice is to support Christianity, for early in its intellectual development it joined Greek rationality to the Hebraic tradition and created a reasonable faith.

Even within Christianity, there have been theological developments that sundered faith from reason by emphasis upon God's radical willfulness, such as the nominalist theology of Duns Scotus:
For example, Ratzinger notes that within the Catholic scholastic tradition itself, thinkers emerged like Duns Scotus, whose imaginary construction of God sundered the "synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit." For Scotus, it was quite possible that God "could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done." If God had willed to create a universe without rhyme or reason, a universe completely unintelligible to human intelligence, that would have been his privilege. If he had decided to issue commandments that enjoined human beings to sacrifice their children, or kill their neighbors, or plunder their property, mankind would have been compelled to obey such commandments. Nor would we have had any "reason" to object to them, or even question them. For Scotus and those who followed him, the ultimate and only reason behind the universe is God's free and unrestrained will. But as Ratzinger asks, How can such a view of God avoid leading "to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness?" The answer is, it cannot.
The insightful German philosopher Hans Blumenberg has argued in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age that Christian theology led more or less inevitably to the Scotus position because its initial overcoming of Gnosticism had merely repressed rather than solved the possibility of a deceptive God and that the modern world had decisively overcome the Gnostic problem by centering reason in the self-assertive human being and disregarding the absolutely willful God.

Ratzinger and Harris disagree, arguing that Modernity's rationality stems from Medieval Christianity's mainstream understanding of a rational God and that our current imperative is to recognize this fact.

Whether modern reason can be severed from that Christian tradition and yet survive is the question reasonably posed by both Ratzinger the Christian and Harris the atheist.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

The Great Behindert

But where's Dokdo?

Can you imagine Tony Williams of The Platters crooning this one? If you attempt it on your own, be sure to rhyme "Behinder(t)" with "Pretender."
The Great Behindert

Oh yes, I'm the Great Behindert
Behindered from doing well
My need is such, but they hinder too much
I'm broken, 38th Parallel

Oh yes, I'm the Great Behindert
Adrift in a world not my own
I'd balance the game, but to my Great Han shame
They just will not leave me alone

Too real is this feeling of make believe
Too real when I feel what my heart can't conceal

Oh yes, I'm the Great Behindert
Just laughing and gay like a clown
I seem to be what I'm not, you see
I'm wearing my heart like a crown
Pretending that you're not around

Too real is this feeling of make believe
Too real when I feel what my heart can't conceal

Oh yes, I'm the Great Behindert
Just laughing and gay like a clown
I seem to be what I'm not, you see
I'm wearing my heart like a crown
Pretending that you're not around
Inspired by Sperwer, dedicated to Kang Man-kil, but with profound apologies to Buck Ram for his Great Pretender...

And no, I'm not making light of Korea's unfortunate division, but merely of Dr. Kang's odd expression on how this division came about.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Korean Unification 'Hindered'

Korean Peninsula
Divided Along the Demarcation Line
About the 38th Parallel
(Image from Wikipedia)

For the past three or four months, I've been receiving free copies of the Korea Policy Review, perhaps because of an article touching on Korean unification that I co-authored with Kim Myongsob about a year ago for Issues & Studies, or possibly because I was a co-presenter earlier this year with him on a similar theme at the KAIS conference Global East Asia and the Future of the Two Koreas (recently published in the Korea Observer).

I haven't had much time to peruse my copies of Korea Policy Review, but from a glancing familiarity, I'd say that it looks to be a semi-official venue for presenting the Korean government's policies in a favorable light.

The first article in this month's issue thus caught my eye this morning as I was using a free moment to look the journal over: "The Meaning of National Liberation and Peace on Korean Peninsula" (pdf).

It initially caught my attention because its author, Kang Man-kil, is Chairman of the Presidential Committee for the Inspection of Collaborators for Japanese Imperialism. That makes him somewhat of an authoritative spokesperson for the current, Roh administration.

But what really caught my attention was this statement on page 8:
In the early stage of the Korean War, the Korean Peninsula was nearly unified by the North Korea-China-Russia alliance. But the U.N. forces, led by the United States, which knew that the security of Japan could not be secured within U.S. domain, took part in the war and hindered the unification.
The U.S. hindered the unification? That's certainly an interesting way of putting it. Now, granted, the article goes on to note that after the Incheon landing, unification was nearly achieved from the southern part of the peninsula, so this manner that Dr. Kang has of expressing himself might be an attempt at a neutral, 'scholarly' description...

However, in an article by the Chairman of the Presidential Committee for the Inspection of Collaborators for Japanese Imperialism, I have to read with a bit of skepticism any putative social-scientific neutrality in Dr. Kang's subordinate clause about the United States knowing "that the security of Japan could not be secured within U.S. domain" and therefore hindering Korean unification for that reason.

Or am I misreading things?

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Remembering Hug Mundinger

Hugo Karl Mundinger
July 20, 1925 - April 5, 2005

Yesterday's anecdote about my time in Tübingen reminded me of how quickly time moves along, and today's websearch for an old friend, Hug Mundinger, confirms it.

I met Hug Mundinger about 15 years ago through Tübingen's German-American Institute ... indirectly. The director of the English program had been tutoring him in English but had too many responsibilities and so asked if I were willing to take over for her.

"Hug Mundinger?" I echoed. "Who's that?"

"He's an artist," she said.

"Why is he called 'Hug'?" I asked, figuring it was a nickname.

"His name's really Hugo," she explained, "but he's a very warm person and wants to express this by his name."

"Oh ... great," I muttered, thinking that I had him pegged, but I agreed to take him on as a private student. I got directions to the Künstlerbund, which means "Artists' Association," crossed the Neckar River, and wound my way to an old part of Tübingen down from the central marketplace.

There, I found the Künstlerbund ... locked. So, I waited ... and waited ... and waited. I was beginning to reconsider my agreement to tutor this artist, given his apparently rather 'creative' approach to making an appointment, when the door unlocked and an old man appeared before me, somewhat shabbily dressed in rough, grey clothes.

"Come," he said, motioning me within. "I am Hug Mundinger."

I especially recall his motioning me to enter, for his right hand was missing ... as was his left. And I soon observed that he also had a glass eye.

I entered and began teaching him English.

Only weeks later, when I knew him better, did I feel comfortable enough to ask him how he had lost his hands and eye. He told me that he had been a young soldier in World War II and that a grenade had landed and exploded in front of him. When he regained consciousness some minutes later, his hands were missing, and his eye was hanging out of its socket.

American soldiers found him and put him in a military hospital for treatment. During his recovery, he made the decision not to give up his dream of becoming an artist, so he practiced his drawing by holding a pencil tightly between his two wrists and sketching that way.

"But how do you perceive dimensions?" I asked him. "Isn't everything flat with just one eye?"

"I stand like this," he explained, standing in one place, "then like this," he added, having shifted himself slightly to one side.

He had taught himself to see in perspective by using his one eye to look at the same object twice, from two different positions -- something that the rest of us do automatically by virtue of our two sound eyes.

He was an amazing character, and I taught him English until 1995, when I finally finished my doctoral research and abandoned Germany for different lands and other adventures, but exceedingly sorry to leave this fascinating man behind.

Now, he's gone, for over a year already, and I have only a few samples of his work and these few memories...

Rest in peace, Hug.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Humor Break: One of my better lines...

Fertilization: So that's how it happens!
(Image from Wikipedia)

Back when I was still living in Germany as a single man prior to meeting Sun-Ae, I became friends with a Polish woman named Magda whom I had gotten to know in one of the English courses that I taught for Tübingen's German-American Institute.

Magda and another Polish woman were both studying German at Tübingen's Eberhard Karls University, where I was pursuing -- not hot pursuit, mind you, but pursuing -- my doctoral research.

Anyway, this other Polish woman was living with her boyfriend, also Polish, who somehow got her pregnant but, oddly, had no interest in being a father and chose to ignore his impending paternal responsibilities.

Consequently, he refused to help his girlfriend during her pregnancy and didn't even show up at the hospital during her labor or after his child, a daughter, was born.

I, however, went with Magda to see the newborn little girl, who looked much like ... well ... like what a newborn baby looks like. Somewhat babyish ... if I recall.

As I was getting acquainted with this baby-person, the doctor entered the room, saw me -- the only man present -- smiled broadly, came over, shook my hand, and said, "Congratulations! You must be very happy!"

Not wanting to embarrass this nice doctor, I smiled just as broadly, accepted the implied paternity, and responded, "Yes, it is truly a miracle."

Of course, I've since learned that having children is always miraculous...


Monday, September 25, 2006

Revisiting "Islamofascism": Martin Kramer

(Image Borrowed from Kramer's "About Sandstorm")

Martin Kramer, whom I've previously cited for his excellent website on Middle Eastern studies, and who expressed serious doubts about invading Iraq, has also expressed doubts -- in "Islamism and Fascism: Dare to Compare" (September 20, 2006) -- about the expression "Islamofascism," prefering "Islamism" or "jihadism," but he admits that he...
... can't rise up against the use of Islamic fascism with the righteous indignation mustered by, say, Michigan professor Juan Cole, who's denounced the "lazy conflation of Muslim fundamentalist movements with fascism." My reason is that this conflation, or comparison, has had some rigorous champions within Middle Eastern studies over the years. It didn't originate in the Bush White House; it has a long pedigree including some pioneering social scientists. These scholars, who knew ... about both Islamism and fascism, did think the comparison made sense. I'll let them explain why.
He then cites three scholars: Manfred Halpern, Maxime Rodinson, and Said Amir Arjomand.

According to Halpern, who was writing way back in 1963, when Islamists were allies in the Cold War against Communism, the parallels to fascism were several, and he noted them in his book, Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa, published that same year:
The neo-Islamic totalitarian movements are essentially fascist movements. They concentrate on mobilizing passion and violence to enlarge the power of their charismatic leader and the solidarity of the movement. They view material progress primarily as a means for accumulating strength for political expansion, and entirely deny individual and social freedom. They champion the values and emotions of a heroic past, but repress all free critical analysis of either past roots or present problems .... Like fascism, neo-Islamic totalitarianism represents the institutionalization of struggle, tension, and violence. Unable to solve the basic public issues of modern life -- intellectual and technological progress, the reconciliation of freedom and security, and peaceful relations among rival sovereignties -- the movement is forced by its own logic and dynamics to pursue its vision through nihilistic terror, cunning, and passion. An efficient state administration is seen only as an additional powerful tool for controlling the community. The locus of power and the focus of devotion rest in the movement itself. Like fascist movements elsewhere, the movement is so organized as to make neo-Islamic totalitarianism the whole life of its members.
These parallels depend upon an analysis of fascism as a violent religious cult dominated by a charismatic leader, which has some uses -- such as an emphasis upon fascism's irrationalism -- but, in my opinion, ignores the nationalist aspect that characterized the large-scale fascistic movements of the mid-twentieth century.

As for Rodinson, he was a French leftist and expert on Islam who published a long front-page article critical of the leftist infatuation with Ayatollah Khomeini and his Iranian Revolution in a 1978 issue of Le Monde, noting:
[T]he dominant trend is a certain type of archaic fascism (type de fascisme archaïque). By this I mean a wish to establish an authoritarian and totalitarian state whose political police would brutally enforce the moral and social order. It would at the same time impose conformity to religious tradition as interpreted in the most conservative light.
Kramer notes that by the adjective "archaic," Rodinson was referring to "the religious component of the ideology, largely absent from European fascism," which means that Rodinson recognized and acknowledged that the label "fascist" doesn't fit very well. I wonder if Rodinson's willingness to use the term might stem from the leftist tendency to throw the word "fascist" into face of opponents -- but an ironic usage in this case since Rodinson was attacking fellow leftists for their support of an "archaic fascism." Not only were his fellow leftists supporting fascists, they were supporting archaic fascists ... the worst sort, apparently.

Finally, Arjomand picked up on the comparison in a 1986 article for the World Politics -- "Iran's Islamic Revolution in Comparative Perspective" -- arguing for parallels between Islamism and fascism:

Like fascism, the Islamic revolutionary movement has offered a new synthesis of the political creeds it has violently attacked. And, like the fascists, the Islamic militants are against democracy because they consider liberal democracy a foreign model that provides avenues for free expression of alien influences and ideas.
One problem that I see with this argument is that it would gather too many diverse political groups within the big tent of a loosely defined "fascism." Wouldn't a lot of Marxist movements of the 20th century fit? Well ... there is the argument that these were also fascist. I recall Susan Sontag arguing something like this about communism back in the early 80s, calling it "a variant, the most successful variant, of fascism" ("Communism and the Left: Poland and Other Questions," The Nation, February 27, 1982).

I still have my doubts, however, and like Kramer, I find these three analyses of Islamism as fascism interesting but not persuasive.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Timothy Garton Ash on the Pope ... well, not quite on the Pope

(© Copyright 1996, Regents of the University of California)

Timothy Garton Ash has an interesting article, "Islam in Europe," appearing in The New York Review of Books (Volume 53, Number 15, October 5, 2006), which -- despite the publication date -- was written on September 6 and therefore prior to the recent controversy over the Pope's Regensburg lecture, for Ash doesn't mention it.

However, he expresses himself in words strongly supporting free speech -- a position certainly of relevance to this past week's controversy:

[F]reedom of expression is essential. It is now threatened by people like Mohammed Bouyeri, [who murdered Theo van Gogh and] whose message to people like [the politically activist ex-Muslim] Ayaan Hirsi Ali is "if you say that, I will kill you." Indeed, [the writer Ian] Buruma tells us that Bouyeri explained to the court that divine law did not permit him "to live in this country or in any country where free speech is allowed." (In which case, why not go back to Morocco?) But free speech is also threatened by the appeasement policies of frightened European governments, which attempt to introduce censorship in the name of intercommunal harmony. A worrying example was the British government's original proposal for a law against incitement to religious hatred. This is a version of multiculturalism which goes, "You respect my taboo and I'll respect yours." But if you put together all the taboos of all the cultures in the world, you're not left with much you can speak freely about.
I find a lot to agree with in this passage, for the threat to free speech comes from more than one source. Ash identifies aggressive radical Islamism and enforced political correctness as the two current main sources, and I think that he's right.

On a connected point, I feel that I ought to add -- given my own, nagging doubts -- that Ash trusts Tariq Ramadan as the right spokesperson for a peaceful European Islam:
In the relationship with Islam as a religion, it makes sense to encourage those versions of Islam that are compatible with the fundamentals of a modern, liberal, and democratic Europe. That they can be found is the promise of Islamic reformers such as Tariq Ramadan -- another controversial figure, deeply distrusted by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the French left, and the American right, but an inspiration to many young European Muslims. Ramadan insists that Islam, properly interpreted, need not conflict with a democratic Europe. Where the Eurabianists [such as Bat Ye'or] imply that "more Muslim Europeans means more terrorists," Ramadan suggests that the more Muslim Europeans there are, the less likely they are to become terrorists. Muslim Europeans, that is, in the sense of people who believe -- unlike Mohammed Bouyeri, Theo van Gogh, and, I suspect, Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- that you can be both a good Muslim and a good European.

On this complex of thoughts, I confess to some doubts, for I see little these days to encourage me that a larger number of Muslim Europeans would mean a significantly larger number of Europeanized Muslims -- if by that we mean Muslims who are self-critical about Islam, who hold that religious identity is a matter for individual choice, and who accept the division between state and religion.

But I'm open to considering that the possibility exists, and on this point, Ash cites Ramdan's "systematic presentation of his argument from Islamic law and jurisprudence" on how "To Be a European Muslim: A Study of Islamic Sources in the European Context (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation; the date of first publication is given as 1999/1420 H)."

I suppose that I ought to read this if I want to understand Tariq Ramadan ... and the possibility of a Europeanized Islam (rather than an Islamized Eurabia).

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Braguean Reading of the Pope's Lecture

Find Europe ... if you can.
(Image from Wikipedia)

Some commenters have called my attention to other aspects of the Pope's Regensburg lecture than the theological one that I've emphasized.

I did notice these other points when I read the text, but I was more focused upon demonstrating that the Pope's quote from the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus had been misconstrued by much of the media and many Muslims, partly due to a faulty English translation that the Vatican itself didn't catch.

The Pope's lecture, however, contained far more than just theology, and the following paragraph reminds me of Rémi Brague's views:
This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history -- it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.
The Pope's understanding of what formed "Europe" sounds a bit like Brague's, about which I blogged more than one year ago, when I wrote:
Brague argues that the central characteristic of Western civilization is its "secondarity." Unlike, for instance, Islamic or Confucian civilizations, the West finds its identity in something other than itself -- indeed, in two other cultures to which it is secondary, those of ancient Greece and ancient Judaism. Thus, the West's founding texts are in Classical Greek and Biblical Hebrew and by requiring repeated translation have kept the West aware of its borrowed identity.
The Pope doesn't emphasize "secondarity" in his paragraph, but a small step would get him there.

Rémi Brague's book, for those interested, is titled Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization (2002), and it first appeared (1992) in French, where it bore the title Europe, la voie romaine.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Tariq Ramadan on the Pope's Message

Arabic Script: "...and be prepared."
(Image from Wikipedia)

As I've previously noted, I'm not sure what to make of Tariq Ramadan, whose maternal grandfather, the Egyptian Hassan al Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood (1928), an Islamist movement dedicated to the following credo:

"God is our objective, the Quran is our Constitution, the Prophet is our leader, struggle is our way, and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations."

But I won't get into all of that right now, for I only wish to draw attention to Ramadan's recently printed opinion on the Pope's speech: "A struggle over Europe's religious identity," International Herald Tribune (September 20, 2006). He first warns fellow Muslims that their "mass protests ... end up providing a living proof that Muslims cannot engage in reasonable debate and that verbal aggression and violence are more the rule than the exception." After these words to the Muslim community, Ramadan turns to the Pope's message:

[T]he pope attempted to set out a European identity that would be Christian by faith and Greek by philosophical reason. Islam, which has apparently had no such relationship with reason, would thus be foreign to the European identity that has been built atop this heritage.
Here, I think that Ramadan slightly mistates the Pope's argument in a couple of ways.

The Pope argued that Christianity itself integrates reason with faith because it trusts in a rational God who acts according to reasonable principles and whose divine rational nature is reflected in both human reason and the order of the universe, whence the Pope's insistence on the "real analogy" between God and human beings.

The Pope did not argue that Muslim identity includes no element of Greek rationality. Rather, he noted that Muslim theology seems to allow for only a purely voluntarist deity, namely, God defined only by his radically free will, a will so unconstrained that it need not even be consistent with itself. Hence the Pope's reference to Ibn Hazm:
Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.
Ramadan's insistence on a rationalist strain in Islamic thought -- "the decisive contributions of rationalist Muslim thinkers like al-Farabi (10th century), Avicenna (11th century), Averroes (12th century), al-Ghazali (12th century), Ash-Shatibi (13th century) and Ibn Khaldun (14th century)" -- thus misses the Pope's central point about fundamentally differing conceptions of God's nature in Islam (willful) and Christianity (rational).

The Pope's larger theme lay in his subtle argument that Islam might have a problem with violence because it has a problem in its theology. If God's nature is defined centrally by his radically free will, then believers cannot appeal to reason in their aim to convert nonbelievers but must demand submission to an arbitrary God who cannot be rationally understood. If the force of reason cannot be used in converting nonbelievers, then the force of violence will be.

I think that the Pope was making this point, but Tariq Ramadan missed it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Poetry Break: "Intimation of Mortality"

(Image from Wikipedia)

Where is it now, the glory and the dream ... the splendour in the crass, the glory in the power? Yesterday gazed I down from great heights, but today, oh, how am I brought so low?

Broken from that far-flung fall, I post a poem of brokenness:

Intimation of Mortality

My soul of late is much possessed of death.
Perhaps it is a premonition of the end,
When I, with final, aching breath,
Give up the ghost as Jesus did.
Some exhalation parallels that final one.

A thought I had that he comes knocking once a year,
But only once, and just one knock...
A hollow, single knock I hear.
Presentiment of old mortality,
That moment of my death drawn near.
Not morbid, just my own little Memento mori ... reminding you of death since 1985!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gypsy Scholar Hits the Bigtime!

(Image from Wikipedia)

I crawled out of bed at my usual, bleary-eyed hour of 3:00 a.m., turned on my computer, checked my blog's site meter, and rubbed my eyes. Twice.

"Already 353 visitors today?" I muttered. "That's a record."

My blog has only occasionally topped 300, so I was definitely surprised. I looked at the details and saw that most of the visits were quite brief, lasting no more than "0" seconds.

"No big deal," I thought.

On exiting from the site meter some minutes later, I paused to refresh the page and see how many visitors had now stopped by:


I stared in disbelief. The numbers had clicked up with a startling briskness, a briskness that left me astounded. I again refreshed the page:




And just now:


Uh-oh, the stream of visitors clicking in appears to be slowing down. What am I suddenly doing wrong? Is my 15 minutes of fame nearly up? ... with me sleeping through most of it. More seriously, why did this happen? Investigating more closely, I discovered the cause:

The National Review Online

"The Corner"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Parsing Benedict [Ramesh Ponnuru]

Did he really say what we think he said? (Via Mirror of Justice)

If I understand this correctly, Ramesh Ponnuru found a link at Mirror of Justice to one of my blog entries on the Pope's speech and linked to me directly (and indirectly). That explains the phenomenal number of hits so early this fine Korean morning.

But who is Ramesh Ponnuru? According to his author's bio at NRO, he's the senior editor. Also, he has published in various big-name newspapers and journals and even seems to be quite the talking head appearing on:

CNN's Inside Politics, NBC's The McLaughlin Group, MSNBC's Buchanan & Press and Donahue, CNBC's Kudlow & Cramer, PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CSPAN's Washington Journal, Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect, Fox News, and NPR's Morning Edition

Wow! This guy's bigger than the Pope! No wonder my blog is getting so many hits.

Thank you, Mr. Ponnuru, sir. I tip my hat to your hat tip.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What the Pope didn't quote...

(Image from Wikipedia)

It has been widely reported that the Pope quoted the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus as stating the following:
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Actually, the Pope quoted this:
"Zeig mir doch, was Mohammed Neues gebracht hat, und da wirst du nur Schlechtes und Inhumanes finden wie dies, daß er vorgeschrieben hat, den Glauben, den er predigte, durch das Schwert zu verbreiten."
The crucial, 'insulting' words in the quote are "evil and inhuman," which in the original German text of the Pope's speech are "Schlechtes und Inhumanes."

Now, I don't have at hand the Greek text of the Byzantine emperor's dialogue (though it's probably online somewhere), so I don't know his exact words, but they would be irrelevant anyway since the Pope didn't quote them directly in Greek.

What the Pope quoted in his original German text was "Schlechtes und Inhumanes," which rather than "evil and inhuman" could perhaps better be quoted as "bad and inhumane." The English text then might better read as follows:
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only bad and inhumane, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
I don't have any illusion that Muslims would be greatly mollified by this restatement, for it's still critical of Muhammad (though the Pope is merely quoting, not explicitly affirming), but to my ear it has a different connotation. The word "bad" doesn't raise the suspicion of "Satanic" that the word "evil" does, and "inhumane" doesn't sound quite so brutal as 'inhuman."

So ... I offer to the Vatican this translation and urge them to alter the English in their official text in accordance with my suggestion -- as they apparently did with the English translation that I proposed yesterday. You will recall this passage in the official English text:
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general.
I suggested a different English rendering of the German:
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with an astonishing brusqueness, for us an astounding brusqueness, bluntly on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general.
And what do we find in today's slightly revised version of the Vatican's official English text? This:
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general.
They didn't use my exact words, but they seem to have liked my suggestion that "überraschend" be translated here as "astounding," though they used the past rather than present participle.

I think that I deserve at least a footnote. Whether I get one or not, I'm gratified to discover that the Vicar of Christ reads Gypsy Scholar. And if he's willing to learn from a Protestant's correction, then I'd say that this Pope is ready for ecumenical dialogue.

Despite my original doubts...

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Monday, September 18, 2006

What the Pope really, actually said in Regensburg...

Pre-Papal Ratzinger with German Philosopher Jürgen Habermas
Catholic Academy of Bavaria, Germany in 2004
(Image from

I've already noted today's point in a comment that I posted to yesterday's blog entry, but posting it as a separate entry will serve to emphasize it.

The Pope's remarks, originally in German, deserve a more accurate translation. The block quote below presents the official English text with alterations in red font to fit the Pope's original German address:

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις – controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with an astonishing brusqueness, for us an astounding brusqueness, bluntly on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so very forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood -- and not acting reasonably ("συν λόγω") is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".
Compare my alterations to the crucial portion of the official English translation:

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.
Now, first of all, this official English translation itself shows the Pope putting distance between himself and the words of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, and a careful reading will note this, but the German original is even more expressive of distance.

For those interested, the original German words behind my alterations are:

in erstaunlich schroffer, uns überraschend schroffer Form ganz einfach

nachdem er so zugeschlagen hat
In the first of these two, an entire phrase is left out, "uns überraschend schroffer Form," which I've rendered as "for us an astounding brusqueness." Also missing is the expression "ganz einfach," which I take here to mean "bluntly." In the second of these two, "nachdem er so zugeschlagen hat," I think that the word "zugeschlagen" carries more force than the translation renders, so I've added the intensifier "very." With these small changes made for greater precision, the Pope is more clearly shown to be carefully distancing himself from the Byzantine emperor's words.

Unfortunately, the English text that appeared in the media was an official one provided by the Vatican, and someone in the Catholic hierarchy will have to accept responsibility for that text with its imprecise translations. But even given their imprecision, they indicate that the Pope doesn't fully agree with the manner in which the Byzantine emperor expressed himself. Moreover, the English text -- like the German text itself -- is merely provisional, as the endnote informs:
The Holy Father intends to supply a subsequent version of this text, complete with footnotes. The present text must therefore be considered provisional.
I don't doubt that the subsequent English translation will strive for more accuracy, and likely add some explanatory footnotes to the disputed points.

Incidentally, I see that the Pope's old nemesis, Hans Küng, has spoken out for the Pope on this issue:
Dissident Swiss theologian Hans Küng, one of the Pope's harshest critics, also defended the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, saying he didn't intend to provoke the Islamic world. ("Couchepin backs Pope's Islam comments," Neue Zürcher Zeitung, September 17, 2006)
I'm glad that Küng has spoken out on this issue, for his years of work in interreligious dialogue should give his statement added weight among Muslims.

Meanwhile, violent, unreasonable reactions to the Pope's words against violence and unreason in religion continue.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

New York Times Insults the Pope

Entrance to the New York Times' Main Offices
229 West 43rd Street in New York City
(Image from Wikipedia)

In an editorial published on September 16, 2006, provocatively titled "The Pope's Words," the New York Times distorts what the Pope actually said by citing his Regensburg speech in a way that strongly implies that he himself called Islam "evil and inhuman":

There is more than enough religious anger in the world. So it is particularly disturbing that Pope Benedict XVI has insulted Muslims, quoting a 14th-century description of Islam as "evil and inhuman."
In the most provocative part of its editorial, the Times treats as disingenuous the Vatican's assurance "that Benedict meant no offense and in fact desired dialogue," for it objects that "this is not the first time the pope has fomented discord between Christians and Muslims."

Giving itself some wiggle room, the Times allows for possible carelessness in the Pope's remarks:

[I]t is tragic and dangerous when ... [the Pope] sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly.

Clearly, however, the Times does not really consider the Pope's remarks merely careless, for it demands "a deep and persuasive apology."

A billion Catholics worldwide are doubtless angry at the Times for its strong suggestion that the Pope, whom Catholics consider the Vicar of Christ, has deliberately insulted Muslims and that he is now being disingenuous about his insult. Undoubtedly, Catholics will soon be marching in streets across the globe to protest the Times' "Pope-o-phobia." Let us hope that their injured feelings for their revered Pope does not lead them to commit regretable acts of violence, but if they do, then the Times must be held accountable for its role in this crisis.

The world listens carefully to the words of the New York Times. And it is tragic and dangerous when this paper sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. The Times editors need to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI Need Not (Yet) Apologize

Iraqis set fire to an effigy of Pope Benedict XVI during a protest in Basra
Photographer: Nabil Al-Jurani
September 18, 2006
(Image from USA Today)

Since the Pope's recent remarks on Islam have sparked intense anger among Muslims -- to everyone's surprise -- I decided to look more closely at what the pope actually said.

The Pope was speaking at the University of Regensburg on the relation between reason and faith and had recounted a brief anecdote about his experience teaching in the 1950s at the University of Bonn, which had two theological faculties (presumably, Catholic and Protestant), concerning which a colleague -- possibly not a theologian -- observed that "there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God."

This anecdote led into the Pope's discussion of reason's role in Christian thought, which he introduced with a reference to a Medieval discussion between a prominent Christian and a prominent Muslim, and I'm providing here that reference within its larger context in the Pope's talk:

I was reminded of ... this [issue of reason and faith] recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Muenster) of part of the dialogue carried on -- perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara -- by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point -- itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole -- which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation ... edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having
expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood -- and not acting reasonably ... is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?

I have marked in red the phrases used by the Pope to distance himself from the source that he is citing.

By characterizing as brusque and forceful the words criticizing Muhammad's teachings, the Pope indicates that he does not fully agree with the way that the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus has formulated the issue.

How, precisely, he would differ in his own formulation, the Pope does not say. Presumably, we will find out later, for a note at the end of the Pope's text states: "The Holy Father intends to supply a subsequent version of this text, complete with footnotes."

While we wait for that, we might also wait for the inevitable, inadvertent ironies in reactions to the Pope's speech.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

An exciting evening among the diplomats

Coat of Arms
(Image from Wikipedia)

Despite the pen name "Gypsy Scholar," I don't get out very much. Last night, however, I braved Seoul's rough streets and made my way utterly on my own toward the Grand Hyatt Hotel to attend a special reception "On the Occasion of the 31st Anniversary of the Independence of Papua New Guinea," personally invited by Ambassador Kuma Aua.

You see, the Gypsy knows people in high places ... even if he doesn't get out very much.

Anyway, I was immensely enjoying the very bearable lightness of being alone until my arrival at the Hyatt, where I followed the directions provided and inadvertently strolled into a wrong room, intially mistaking it for the Regency Ballroom. Finding myself confronted by a long mirror, several sinks, and the instant, unexpected focus of intense female attention -- a strong clue in my case that something is amiss -- I quickly backed out, found the actual ballroom through an entrance a bit further to the right, and drowned my embarrassment with a glass of refreshing white wine that the steward couldn't identify but that I tracked down as a sauvignon blanc from Australia.

One meets all sorts of people at such functions, even outside of women's restrooms. For instance, I met the marketing manager for Arabicas Limited, Eung Joe Bae, who imports coffee beans from Papua New Guinea to South Korea. I told him that if he's introducing Koreans to genuine coffee, then he's doing a commendable thing. He generously offered to supply me with their special roast, which I might take him up on.

I had an even more exciting encounter with a journalist from the Korea IT Times. I happened to be alone for a moment, sipping an Australian shiraz and musing about maybe testing that special Arabicas roast, when a Korean man approached me to introduce himself. He was a perceptive fellow, for he already had me pegged as a professor and asked if I taught literature.

In our ensuing conversation, he learned that I had previously taught at Hanshin University. At this point, he became animated and informed me that he had majored in German at Hanshin. I responded by switching to German, and he impressed me not only by replying in German but also by continuing our talk in that language.

I say "impressed" because many Korean students in Korea are not especially serious about their major, and one often meets people here who know very little about the field that they 'studied.'

Anyway, I was just about to hand him my card, when a rather burly fellow who was clearly deep into his cups came over, grabbed the journalist, spoke some angry words in Korean, and began pushing the poor fellow. Astonished by this sudden irruption, I could only stare as my conversation partner was pushed halfway across the room. Other people intervened to separate the two, the aggressive man was escorted out, and my journalist returned to accept my card and supply his own before exiting with determination in his eyes.

I wonder what that was about ... and what came of it.

A New Zealand couple that I know had been watching the entertainment and asked me if I knew why it had happened. I admitted to my ignorance but observed that although Koreans are generally peaceful, courteous people, they can also suddenly erupt in anger, and turn to violence ... albeit controlled violence. For example, once or twice a year, the political parties in the Korean parliament get angry at each other, square off, and start shoving. Their brawling usually limits itself to that and doesn't degenerate into uncontrolled melees.

The occasional punch, however, does get thrown ... but not last night.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sara Low, with the World Trade Center Visible

I wasn't planning to post again on Sara Low -- for as as said, I didn't know her personally -- but as I was searching the internet for more information about her, I found a site showing exhibits from the Moussaoui case and saw the above photograph, which struck me as poignant.

Another site, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, also provided this photo and eight others of Sara Low among a total of 440 images of evidence presented in the Moussaoui case. I won't link to these other eight individually, but if you want to search for them, you'll find these eight photos by scrolling about halfway down.

I also discovered that the last recorded information that we have about Sara Low is that on the highjacked American Airlines Flight 11, she gave to another flight attendant, Amy Sweeney, "her father's calling card, which allowed [Sweeney] ... to pretend to be a passenger and use an AirFone to call Logan Airport and relay the vital information."

With that card, Ms. Sweeney reported what she knew and saw, providing valuable information until "the plane suddenly changed course, ... [and] she spoke her last reported words: 'I see water and buildings. Oh my God! Oh my God!'"

And that was the end.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sara Low: American Airlines Flight 11

(Image Borrowed from Guardian Unlimited)

On my 9/11 post, my brother Tim left this comment:

It's hard to believe it has been five years since 9/11. Thinking about Sara, a flight attendant I knew from Batesville, who died on Flight 11.
Astonished, I responded:

Tim, I had no idea that you knew someone who died in the 9/11 attacks.

I'm sorry to hear this. Was she a close friend?

To which, Tim said:

I know Sara's father well and knew Sara when she was in her teens and early 20s. She was an intelligent and beautiful person who deserved better than her tragic end.

Five years have passed, but only now have I learned that one of my own brothers knew someone not far from our hometown of Salem who was killed on September 11, 2001.

Sara died when she was only 28 and deserves a far better tribute than I can give, for I didn't know her, but I can at least add this post to her memory.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Fan Death is Real!

Close-Up: Electric Fans Sold in Korea
(Image from Wikipedia)

Those of you who live outside of Korea have perhaps never heard of "fan death" even though it kills thousands of people every year. If you haven't heard of this, then read the informative article at Wikipedia, which tells us:
The belief [in Korea] is that an electric fan, if left running overnight in a closed room, can result in the death (by suffocation, poisoning, or hypothermia) of those inside. This belief also extends to air conditioners and the fans in cars. When the air conditioner or fan is on in a car, some people are apt to leave their car windows open a crack to avoid "fan death." Fans manufactured and sold in Korea are equipped with a timer switch that turns them off after a set number of minutes, which users are frequently urged to set when going to sleep with a fan on.
Although the article is written by a disbeliever, it does summarize the central facts, and more people need to be aware of these facts.

Unfortunately, some individuals -- mostly just Westerners guilty of arrogant Orientalism -- try to deny fan death. For instance, the Lost Nomad is on a misguided campaign to convince Koreans that fan death does not exist, but I've tried to warn him otherwise by providing the results from my own, rigorously conducted research:
How can people doubt fan death!? Fans kill thousands of people each year, but most of the deaths go unreported because the fans were in a different room. It's a little-known fact that the whirling blades cause disturbance in the ether that pervades the universe, and the ripple effect impairs organisms up to 500 feet distant.

This summer, fans killed several of my son's pets. First a stag beetle died when our cat, driven mad by ripples in the ether, overturned the beetle's plastic terrarium and fought the poor beetle to its death. Miraculously, the cat survived. Our eel was not so lucky as the cat. Driven insane by the whirling blades' insidious disturbance of the ether, it managed to flip itself out of its aquarium -- through a tiny hole in the top!! -- and die. We found it on the floor ... shriveled and dry. That could happen to you, too. Since then, two other stag beetles have died. Snails as well. And a goldfish has turned deathly white! Scary.

Miraculously, our cats and children have survived, but we're taking no more chances, especially now that our two fans have begun to alter weather patterns in our apartment. In the past two days, they've actually been blowing cool air at night -- even though there's no air-conditioning unit attached! We think that the fans are now trying to freeze us to death, so we've put them away in a closet, completely covered in a bag zipped carefully shut to prevent them from doing even more damage.

Fans are killers. Why do you think that they're called fans? The word "fan" is short for "fanatic." You can't trust fanatics. Don't trust fans, either.
That's what I posted on Nomad's blog, and I'm now posting it in slightly altered form here with the aim of alerting others to the deadly effects of fans. I just hope that more people will come to see how dangerous these things are.

Spread the word.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11: Five Years On...

September 11, 2001
(Image from Wikipedia)

This image may seem premature to those of you across the Pacific in America, but the date 9/11 comes early for us living in Korea. In memory of those who died, Gypsy Scholar now falls silent and gives voice to Amba, a New Yorker:
What I'll remember, this and every September 11 and a lot of times when it's not September 11, is the taste of ashes, bitter and burning. And the downtown-dwelling psychologist at our health club who told us in those first days that his wife had dreamt of a man sitting on their couch, covered in ashes. "I know I'm dead," he said. "I just need to rest here a little before I go on."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Beowulf as Antetype of Christ: Addendum

(Image from Wikipedia)

In preparing for my lecture in Medieval Literature this week, I re-read the first 661 lines of Beowulf. and noticed something that fits with my typological interpretation of the hero Beowulf as an antetype of Christ.

In lines 86 through 169, the demonic monster Grendel is introduced and described by the narrator as a malignant, God-cursed fiend out of hell who wreaks destruction on the pre-Christian Danes in his hatred against the court poet for singing of the Almighty's great acts in creating the world.

In lines 170-178, the Danes react by taking counsel in their high meetings and even by seeking help at their pagan shrines, which the narrator comments upon in lines 178-188.

Here's the text of lines 170 through 188, borrowed from Benjamin Slade's transcription at Steorarume, along with a translation slightly adapted from the same site -- and note that I use a right slash to indicate the midline caesura of Old English poetry:

Þæt wæs wraéc micel / wine Scyldinga,
That was great misery / for the Friend of the Scyldings,


módes brecða. / Monig oft gesæt
a breaking of his spirit. / Many often sat


ríce tó rúne· / raéd eahtedon·
the mighty at counsel; / pondered a plan,


hwæt swíðferhðum / sélest waére
what by strong-minded men / would be best,


wið faérgryrum / tó gefremmanne·
against the sudden horror, / to do;


hwílum híe gehéton / æt hærgtrafum
sometimes they pledged / at holy temples


wígweorþunga· / wordum baédon
sacred honouring, / in words bid


þæt him gástbona / géoce gefremede
that them the soul-slayer / would offer succour


wið þéodþréaum· / swylc wæs þéaw hyra·
from the plight of the people; / such was their habit:


haéþenra hyht· / helle gemundon
the hope of heathens; / on hell they pondered


in módsefan· / metod híe ne cúþon
in the depths of their hearts; / the Creator they did not know,


daéda démend· / ne wiston híe drihten god
the Judge of deeds, / they were not aware of the Lord God,


né híe húru heofena helm / herian ne cúþon
nor yet they the Helm of the Heavens / were able to honour,


wuldres waldend. / Wá bið þaém ðe sceal
Glory's Wielder. / Woe be to him who must,


þurh slíðne níð / sáwle bescúfan
through dire terror, / thrust his soul


in fýres fæþm, / frófre ne wénan,
into fire's embrace; / hope not for relief,


wihte gewendan· / wél bið þaém þe mót
or to change at all; / well be he who may


æfter déaðdæge / drihten sécean
after death-day / seek the Lord


ond tó fæder fæþmum / freoðo wilnian.
and in his Father's arms / desire peace.
Borrowing from the online Old English dictionary of Bosworth and Toller, I've altered Slade's translation a bit. In line 177, he translates "gástbona" as "demon-slayer," by which I suppose that he means "one who slays demons" (though he might mean "demon that slays"). I take "gástbona" to mean "soul-slayer." More oddly, Slade translates "freoðo wilnian" in line 188 as "yearn towards Nirvana," a rendering that must be part of Slade's attempt to find Indogermanic parallels to Hindu beliefs. I translate "freoðo wilnian" as "desire peace."

Anyway, what I find interesting -- for my Beowulf as Christ-antetype -- is that after the poem's description of Grendel as a fiend from hell who attacks the Danes after hearing their song about the Almighty's creative acts, after the Danes' despair and attempts to placate Satan, after the narrator's promise that those who seek the Father will find peace, the hero Beowulf enters the poem in lines 194 and following, intent upon finding, fighting, and defeating Grendel.

As Grendel is a type of Satan, so is Beowulf a type of Christ.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Robert Kaplan on China's interest in North Korea

(Image from Wikipedia)

Robert Kaplan has recently published an article, "When North Korea Falls," in The Atlantic Monthly (October 2006), and -- perhaps fitting for a writer on military issues -- he's been taking a lot of flak from the expatriate blogging community here in Korea. I agree that Kaplan has given a distorted picture of some things here in Korea. For instance (to borrow a quote from the Marmot's copy of the entire article):
As the saying goes among American soldiers, "There is no peacetime in the ROK." (ROK, pronounced "rock," is militaryspeak for the Republic of Korea.) One has merely to observe the Patriot missile batteries, the reinforced concrete hangars, and the blast barriers at the U.S. Air Force bases at Osan and Kunsan, south of Seoul -- which are as heavily fortified as any bases in Iraq -- to be aware of this.
One military man, Capt BBQ, took contentious issue with Kaplan on this point:
So this is the Kaplan guy I hear talked up so much? He's a good story teller at least. Spending 3 and 1/2 years in the USFK has perhaps given me an unfair standard to judge him by, but how can I take his analysis of a secretive regime seriously when he fails so miserably portraying the US military? I've never heard of more than half the crap he claims we say:

"which are as heavily fortified as any bases in Iraq"

My barracks were guarded by a combination of any two from a group of three narcoleptic old men, a grandma and a retard ... that is, Grown-man-on-bike-with-training-wheels retard.
Capt BBQ might be guilty of a little humorous exaggeration himself, but he's surely right. The U.S. bases here in Korea are not even remotely "as heavily fortified as any bases in Iraq."

But I'm not posting on Kaplan to critique, praise, or bury him, but to quote him on China's interest in North Korea, which he illustrates in the case of a Kim Family Regime (KFR) collapse:
Whereas Japan's strategic position would be dramatically weakened by a collapsed North Korean state, China would eventually benefit. A post-KFR Korean peninsula could be more or less under Seoul's control -- and China is now South Korea's biggest trading partner. Driving along the coast, all I saw at South Korean ports were Chinese ships.

Other factors also work in Beijing's favor. China harbors thousands of North Korean defectors that it would send back after a collapse, in order to build a favorable political base for China's gradual economic takeover of the Tumen River region -- the northeast Asian river valley where China, Russia, and North Korea intersect, with good port facilities on the Pacific. De facto control of a future Tumen Prosperity Sphere would bolster China's fiscal strength, helping it to do economic battle with the United States and Japan. If China's troops could carve out a buffer zone in the part of North Korea near Manchuria—where China is now developing massive infrastructure projects, such as roads and ports -- Beijing might then sanction the installation of an international coalition elsewhere in the North.

This is the sort of scenario that has concerned me since first learning of China's Northeast Project about three years ago when I was working with my Hanshin University colleagues Yoon Pyung-Joong (윤평중) and Kim Myongsob (김명섭) on a research project concerning Korean reunification.

You can read about this Northeast Project and the attendant controversy in an article by Yonson Ahn, "The Korea-China Textbook War -- What's It All About?" (3/6/2006), but if I may oversimplify China's position, the Northeast Project is a research program funded by the Chinese government that presents the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo as part of China. This is problematic for Koreans and for the prospect of future unification on the Korean peninsula because Koreans have long considered Goguryeo as part of Korean rather than Chinese history and because China's claim to Goguryeo raises territorial issues since Goguryeo extended halfway down the peninsula. If the claim is allowed to stand, China could appeal to history as a legitimate cover for intervention in a crumbling North Korean state.

Kaplan -- though without mentioning Goguryeo -- thinks that China is already planning for this:

Meanwhile, China's infrastructure investments are already laying the groundwork for a Tibet-like buffer state in much of North Korea, to be ruled indirectly through Beijing's Korean cronies once the KFR unravels. This buffer state will be less oppressive than the morbid, crushing tyranny it will replace. So from the point of view of the average South Korean, the Chinese look to be offering a better deal than the Americans, whose plan for a free and democratic unified peninsula would require South Korean taxpayers to pay much of the cost.

Kaplan may very well be right about China's plans, but he underestimates Korean nationalism (okay, I am critiquing). If Koreans are already angry about China's claim to Goguryeo, then they're very unlikely to be sanguine about Chinese control over the North.

Rather than being sanguine, the Koreans could get sanguinary.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Poetry Break: "Agoraphobia"

See, the universe out there really is big and scary...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Since we're all feeling rather apocalyptic these days, or should be, let me reveal to you the hidden words of an old apocalyptic poem that I wrote around 1984, which was something of an appropriate year for writing that kind of poem:


Listen. The city prowls at night, and outside your windows,
In the alley, pads to and fro as though a wild thing caged.
Beware. Beware the shadow on the stair, the shade that flows
Beneath your feet, for by its hidden undertow, enraged,
It'll drag you out into the street, where more than fear shall gnaw
Your bones and suck the marrow clean until they desiccate.

Brittle one. The beast has grasped you in his iron paw
Already; your bones -- your bones are dry ones, and it's too late
To turn, or make a desperate lunge as though you could escape.
You may as well accept your fate and peer ahead, and pray
For the future resurrection of the dead; God may scrape
Your scraps together then ... perhaps reconstitute the clay.
Offtopic remark ... has anyone ever written an apocalyptic poem to a Calypso beat and titled it "Apocalypso"? Jimmy Buffett sings a Matt Betton song by that title, if that qualifies ... but I mean as poem not set to music.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

"Innocent When You Dream"

American Composer
...just another illusionist working his magic...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Rough Tom Waits ain't for everybody, but the night's late if the morning's not early, and I'm in the mood for his raw-voiced singing that's accompanied me through years of innocence and experience because he has a knack for simultaneously expressing both:
We're running through the graveyard
And we laughed my friends and I
We swore we'd be together
Until the day we died
Until the day we died

And it's such a sad old feeling
Oh, the fields are soft and green
And it's memories that I'm stealing
But you're innocent when you dream, when you dream
You're innocent when you dream, when you dream
You're innocent when you dream

The lines are stolen from "Innocent When You Dream," on the album Franks Wild Years, but I'm innocent till wakened from this dream.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Problem with "Islamofascism"

(Image from Wikipedia)

In a recent post, I took a skeptical look at Youssef M. Ibrahim's "The West Needs To Fight Islamofascists With Big Ideas" (The New York Sun, September 1, 2006), but I didn't single out his use of the popular term "Islamofascist" for describing groups such as Al Qaeda.

One of my regular readers, "Steph," alluded to the term as an "[u]nfortunate choice of word," and I happened to agree:

I generally avoid the term "Islamofascism" because it implies a significant connection to European fascism that I just don't see. Fascists emphasize politics of the corporate state grounded in ethnic identity. Islamists emphsize the Ummah, the worldwide Islamic community, and appeal to a religious tradition that supposedly goes all the way back to Muhammad.

The label has been bandied about since 9/11 as people try to come up with a convenient term for implying more or less what ideology Al Qaeda and similar terrorist groups adhere to. "Steph" noted that the term has been in use since at least 1990:

Dr Malise Ruthven wrote an article "Construing Islam as a Language" which appeared in The Independent September 8th 1990 and used the word but I don't know whether he coined it.

That was a bit surprising to learn, but I've since discovered an even longer pedigree. According to Madeleine Brand, "Verbal Front in the Terror War: 'Islamofascism'" (NPR, August 15, 2006):

A Lexis-Nexis search found the first time it was used in the mainstream press was back in 1979, in a Washington Post article describing Iran's Ayatollah Khomeni as an Islamic Fascist.

That's a somewhat different expression, but Brand suggests that:

Since then, the phrase has morphed into "Islam-o-fascist.' That word appeared in a 1990 article in the British newspaper The Independent, which argued that authoritarian governments are the norm in the Islamic world.

This must be the article by Ruthven that "Steph" was referring to, yet the term there doesn't appear to refer to groups similar to Al Qaeda but rather to the 'typical' form of government in the Muslim world. I haven't seen the article by Ruthven, but a Wikipedia entry on "Islamofascism" quotes him:

[T]here is what might be called a political problem affecting the Muslim world. In contrast to the heirs of some other non-Western traditions, including Hinduism, Shintoism and Buddhism, Islamic societies seem to have found it particularly hard to institutionalise divergences politically: authoritarian government, not to say Islamo-fascism, is the rule rather than the exception from Morocco to Pakistan.

Ruthven doesn't clearly endorse the term, but he does use it even though the term's reference doesn't look especially specific. If he's referring to Baath governments like the one that Iraq had under Saddam Hussein, then I think one could argue for the appropriateness of the label "fascist," but in that case "Islamic" (or "Islamo-") wouldn't fit well since the Baath Party was aggressively secular.

But to return to the NPR piece ... Brand cites the leftist historian Paul Berman:

Berman, author of Terror and Liberalism, says that when fascism arose in Europe in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, similar movements cropped up in the Arab world. While different from their European counterparts, Berman says, they "had similar mythology, paranoia -- a cult of hatred and a cult of death."

I've read and learned from Berman's book, but that was about three years ago, and I don't have it at hand for checking, so I don't recall if he endorses the term "Islamofascist" or even "Islamic fascist" to refer to groups like Al Qaeda. I hope not, and so far as I recall, Berman's point was to note political connections and suggest some common ideological strands, not to identify Al Qaeda's ideology as "fascist" -- but I'll perhaps have to get back to you on that.

David Greenberg, of Slate Magazine, writing for The New Republic's "Open University" blog, also learns from Berman but rejects the term "Islamofascism" in "Another Vote Against Islamofascism" (9/1/2006):

When thinkers I admire like Paul Berman first started noting the links between Al Qaeda's murderous, anti-enlightenment ideas and those of Fascist Europe, I thought the term Islamo-fascism seemed like a reasonable effort to define an ideology for which we had (and still have) no consensus name. But Ted Widmer's post is one among several recent comments that have made me reconsider. It's not just that bin Laden's vision is simply too different from Hitler's or Mussolini's to stand up to such pigeonholing. It's also that fascism has been so degraded as an epithet over the years through casual use that even if it were now being used accurately, it would still be likely to strike most ears as mere name-calling -- an expression of sentiment, not the product of analysis. Besides, if we believe (as I do, and as I think most Americans, including President Bush, do) that we're not at war with Islam, why fuse the two words into one? In his new book The Good Fight, Peter Beinart uses "Salafism," which strikes me as a tad esoteric. On TNR's blog The Plank, Spencer Ackerman proposes "anti-Western Salafist jihadism," which he concedes doesn't trip off the tongue. I tend to prefer jihadism--unless I hear a better term.

What does Ted Widmer, of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, have to say in his Open University entry, "Thoughts About Fascism" (9/1/2006)? First, he quotes the "eminent historian Robert Paxton[, who] has provided a useful modern definition of fascism":

"Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
Widmer then observes, "Whom that precisely describes in the world today is difficult to say," but he pretty clearly thinks that it doesn't describe Al Qaeda, for he states that "[t]he first step toward getting this war right is to get our facts right. And the first step to getting our facts right is getting our words right."

I agree that finding the right term is essential, and given Paxton's somewhat unwieldy definition, which places the term "nationalist" at its core, I'd say that my own doubts about the aptness of the label "Islamofascism" have been on target.

Now, if we were to replace Paxton's term "nationalist" with "internationalist," we'd arrive at a definition much closer to describing Al Qaeda and its ilk ... but we wouldn't be talking about fascism anymore.

I prefer the term "Islamism" but recognize that it shades subtly into "Islam," and I can see why Greenberg opts for "Jihadism," for it identifies the problem that we face from groups like Al Qaeda.

What do the rest of you think?

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