Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Allah 'Unlimited' by Reason?

Ibn Hazm
Cordoba, Spain

I offer today another explanation by James V. Schall of theological voluntarism, which he expressed in an article titled "Regensburg Revisited: The Roots of Islamic Violence" (The Catholic Thing, October 1, 2013):
In its Muslim form, [theological voluntarism] . . . seems to be rooted in al-Ghazali and in Ibn Hazm, to whom Benedict referred. In Islam, the notion that God is limited by anything, even His own decrees or reason, is seen to be an insult to Allah. Allah can do the opposite of what he commands. He can call good evil and evil good. He is under no obligation to reveal truth to man. And if he does, he can change his mind and will the opposite later on. These positions are spelled out carefully in the Regensburg Lecture.

Thus, the philosophic root of violence means that such violence used to convert people is perfectly legitimate if Allah commands it, which he appears to do. To deny this possibility as "irrational" would be itself to blaspheme. We would claim that reason could limit the freedom of Allah to which we are to submit ourselves as the only reality to which we need to pay attention.
A question arises: Do al-Ghazali and in Ibn Hazm speak for Islam itself in their understanding of Allah's nature as arbitrary will?

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Islamism: The Real Islam?

James V. Schall, S.J.
Google Images

In an article titled, "It's time to take the Islamic State seriously: It believes that terror is a legitimate way to achieve world peace" (MercatorNet, September 17, 2014), the Jesuit scholar James V. Schall argues that Islamism is the real Islam:
The Islamic State and the broader jihadist movements throughout the world that agree with it are, I think, correct in their basic understanding of Islam. Plenty of evidence is found, both in the long history of early Muslim military expansion and in its theoretical interpretation of the Qur'an itself, to conclude that the Islamic State and its sympathizers have it basically right. The purpose of Islam, with the often violent means it can and does use to accomplish . . . [its aim], is to extend its rule, in the name of Allah, to all the world. The world cannot be at "peace" until it is all Muslim. The "terror" we see does not primarily arise from modern totalitarian theories, nationalism, or from anywhere else but what is considered, on objective evidence, to be a faithful reading of a mission assigned by Allah to the Islamic world, which has been itself largely procrastinating about fulfilling its assigned mission.
The various non-Islamist forms of Islam are thus heretical, implies Schall. The real Islam is made of the sterner stuff offered by the Islamic State. Why is the real Islam like this? Why? Because:
The roots of Islam are . . . bad theology, but still [a theology] coherent within its own orbit and presuppositions . . . . [If one understands the real Islam's] premises and the philosophy of voluntarism used to explain and defend it, [the fact] . . . becomes much clearer that we are . . . dealing with a religion that claims to be true in insisting that it is carrying out the will of Allah, not its own [will] . . . . [W]e have to [deal with this real Islam] . . . on those terms, on the validity of such a claim. The trouble with this approach, of course, is that truth, logos, is not recognized in a voluntarist setting. If Allah transcends the distinction of good and evil, if he can will today its opposite tomorrow, as the omnipotence of Allah is understood to mean in Islam, then there can be no real discussion that is not simply a temporary pragmatic stand-off, a balance of interest and power.
Schall's point here concerns the implications of a voluntarist god. Allah is conceived in Islamic theology as a deity whose divine nature is solely omnipotent will. He has no rational essence and could arbitrarily enjoin tomorrow everything that is forbidden today. This arbitrary foundation of the real Islam entails that "might makes right" - Allah is right because he is the most powerful being - and hence that the real Islam is impervious to reason (i.e., logos). Truth is thus established by force as facts on the ground.

Is Schall therefore correct about the real Islam?

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

More from Byeng-ju Lee Hadong International Literary Festival 2014: Pen Mightier than the Sword

Below are various photos that my wife took this past weekend at the Byeng-ju Lee Hadong International Literary Festival 2014 - to which I was invited to give a talk (as you already know from yesterday's blog entry):

This image inspired today's blog heading: The Pen is Mightier than the Sword - this pen anyway! Here's the man himself - Lee Byeng-ju (aka Yi Byeong-ju, etc.):

Or a close facsimile - life size, but bigger than life! And next a book of his translated by my friend Suh Ji-moon:

Meeting Lu Xinhua, Chinese author of "The Wounded" (aka "The Scar"):

Finally, meeting Yi Munyol (aka Lee Mun-yeol), author of Our Twisted Hero, among other novels:

I also met many more Koreans with creative credits, but I don't have photos at the moment . . .

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Byeng-ju Lee Hadong International Literary Festival 2014

Lee Byeng-ju
Google Images

I'm currently at a conference on "Literature and National Community" being held in conjunction with the Byeng-ju Lee Hadong International Literary Festival 2014, and I presented a paper yesterday:
Literature and National Community: The United States and the Case of Stephen Vincent Benét

Horace Jeffery Hodges

Ewha Womans University


I am informed that my presentation on "Literature and National Community . . . . will be representing the English speaking countries." That's a lot of countries, and I can probably only manage to represent myself, but since I'm American, I'll pretend to represent the United States. Still . . . what am I to say? I suppose I can start with Benedict Anderson's famous view of a nation: "In an anthropological spirit, . . . I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign." Limited, because there are other nations. Sovereign, because not under the rule of another nation. Community, because of a "deep, horizontal comradeship." And imagined, because members do not know most of their fellow-members, yet have a mental image of their communion (Anderson, 6-7). Where does this mental image come from? Partly, at least sometimes, from literature. Which brings me to my subject: Stephen Vincent Benét.

A Forgotten Man?

Stephen Vincent Benét was born in 1898, began writing professionally when only thirteen, in 1911, and from the publication of his bestselling epic poem John Brown's Body in 1928 to his death at the height of his fame in 1943, he was perhaps the best-known American poet living. His poems were read even more than those of the ever popular Robert Frost, and his books of poetry sold in the tens of thousands, receiving good reviews. He wrote not only poems, but also short stories, novels, dramas, radio scripts, screenplays, book reviews, lectures, and speeches, and he edited dozens of book-length manuscripts per year in the mid-1930s. He was one of the eminent American men of letters throughout the thirties and very early forties (Griffith). In the 2002 book Stephen Vincent Benét: Essays on His Life and Work, the editors David Garrett Izzo and Lincoln Konkle thus note the irony that Benét's "work is not widely known today" even though when he "died in 1943 at the age of 44, the loss was felt by an entire country to whom Benét was a national hero" (1). Twelve years later than Izzo and Konkle wrote, nowadays, in 2014, Benét is still little remembered.

Ironically, he has been neglected due to one of the reasons for his prior popularity, his nationalism. In the 2009 Companion to Literature, edited by Abby H. P. Werlock, the entry on Stephen Vincent Benét says the following:
His work is characterized by his interest in . . . American themes . . . . [but t]he patriotic . . . themes of Benét’s work . . . became less fashionable after his death and led some critics to label him an old-fashioned, quaint, and chauvinistic writer who wrote "formula stories" designed to appeal to mainstream readers. ("Stephen Vincent Benét" 80b-81a)
If his works became "less fashionable after his death," one can imagine how unfashionable they were in the rebellious decades of the 1960s and 1970s. The Left objected to his nationalism and didn't much read him, so as Leftists came to dominate academic discourse in the 1980s and beyond, Benét's writings were less and less taught (Izzo and Konkle "Stephen," 4). No doubt his nationalist writings have also not fared well in our time of political multiculturalism and literary fragmentation, both of which celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity to the detriment of Benét's own imagined community of national unity, as in his epic poem, John Brown's Body: "So, from a hundred visions, I make one, / And out of darkness build my mocking sun" (Benét John, 6). The term "mocking" is likely intended here as imitation for non-frivolous purposes, e.g., "mock exam" ("Mock"), or as with "mockingbird," i.e., "[f]rom its skill in mimicking other birdsongs" ("Mockingbird"), though I wouldn't exclude a bit of self-deprecation on Benét's part. But even in his own time, Benét's work was sometimes criticized for its nationalism. An April 5, 1943 editorial in Life magazine on Benét's recent death (March 13, 1943) acknowledges that "[b]ecause of his strong American utterance, Steve Benét has sometimes been accused of chauvinism or narrow nationalism" ("Stephen Benet" p. 22, col. 3).

In His Own Time

In his own time, Benét offered Americans a vision of themselves that could serve as their imagined community. In Jackson J. Benson's book Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work, we find this remark about Benét:
Benet . . . was interested in native materials and the importance of bringing forth (as Emerson had advocated a century earlier) a uniquely national literature divorced from the influences of Europe. (Benson 64-65)
The so-called "influences of Europe" alludes to a long-held American belief that Europe was corrupt and corrupting. Benét therefore offered a national literature of moral uplift, as we find in Joan Shelley Rubin's 2009 book, Songs of Ourselves:
"I have no way of telling you the place in my life your [book] has found," a Texas man declared in a letter to Benét. "Let me say this – it is the book I pick up when I am frayed out, disgusted, exhausted – and it always brings back my balance." (Rubin 231)
Reviewers compared Benét to Walt Whitman due to their common scope and subject, but readers responded with an enthusiasm not seen since the public adulation for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Rubin 231).

What He Offered

As we saw earlier, Benét was sometimes accused of "narrow nationalism" ("Stephen Benet" p. 22, col. 3). A "narrow" nationalism would be exclusive, so we should ask if he excluded some groups from belonging to the "nation." Perhaps a longstanding distinction is useful here: ethnic nationalism versus civic nationalism. The former limits membership to a community characterized by an 'imagined' shared ethnicity, the original meaning of "nation." The latter extends membership to any individual – regardless of ethnicity – who is willing to embrace the shared values of the imagined community (Miscevic). Which of these two nationalisms did Benét extol? Rubin tells us:
One passage [in Benét's poem "Nightmare at Noon"] succinctly reiterates the principle of civic nationalism: "You can be a Finn or a Dane and an American. / You can be German or French and an American, / Jew, Bohunk, Nigger, Mick – all the dirty names / We call each other – and yet American." (Rubin 233)
We Americans may not always speak politely to one another, admits Benét, but we're still Americans, he insists, every one of us. Indeed, he was very generous in extending membership within his imagined community of Americans. Rubin tells us that he "acknowledged the suffering of both North and South" (Rubin 234), even going so far in his 1937 story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" as to insist that in the making of America, "everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors" (Benét 177)! Hard to be more inclusive than that. But, of course, membership in this imagined national community was limited to Americans, as Anderson's definition of community entails (Anderson 1), and hence "divorced from the [corrupting] influences of Europe" (Benson 65).

His Anti-Fascism

With his hugely inclusive conception of America as a nation imbued with civic nationalism, Benét can likely be expected to have taken a dim view of ethnic nationalism, especially the aggressive ethnic nationalisms of Europe's fascist states in the 1930s and 1940s, evidence of a corrupt and corrupting Europe that must be resisted. The scholars Izzo and Konkle confirm his opposition to fascism:
During the late 1930s Benét, just as many other Americans, was alarmed at the tragedy of fascism in Asia and Europe. He took seriously his role as national spokesperson and began to write poems and stories as warnings to the American people. Among these were "The Blood of the Martyrs," "Into Egypt," "The Last of the Legions," "Nightmare at Noon," and "By the Waters of Babylon" . . . . Benét wished to reach more Americans and realized radio was the way . . . . What followed would be the most astonishing output of original works for radio by a literary author ever produced, and more importantly, ever listened to over a four-year period. Benét was a natural writer for radio . . . . His mastery of poetry and the short story suited the need for compactness with a singular effect; his reputation as a man of conscience and a patriot who loved his country was exactly right for an America facing the threat of fascism that was already producing killing fields abroad. (Izzo and Konkle, “Benét” 225)
Benét's 1937 short story "The Blood of the Martyrs" is an especially powerful piece of anti-fascist literature, and all the more significant for its relatively early date, two years before WWII began and four years before America's forced entry into the war. Benét tells the story of an apolitical scientist who is imprisoned and tortured by an unnamed European fascist state, tortured partly because being apolitical is itself a position of suspicion under fascism. The scientist is offered a Faustian bargain. He can have his university job back if he will just agree to publically support the state by giving nationalist speeches and even use his scientific work to undergird the state's belief that its people are racially superior to all other peoples. I won't provide any further details of the plot since some of you might want to read the story, and I don't want to give away any plot spoilers. Just trust me that the story is powerful. It is also short and can be read in half an hour if your English is good.

His Generous Civic Nationalism

Another story published in 1937 was the famous tale of the devil already mentioned in this talk, "The Devil and Daniel Webster." The story is a Faustian one partly inspired by Washington Irving's own Faustian story, "The Devil and Tom Walker." Irving’s story lacks a champion, but Benét's story of Jabez Stone has the famous senator, orator, and lawyer Daniel Webster defend the New Hampshire farmer named Stone who had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for better luck. In the course of a legal argument between Webster and the devil, the latter insists that he himself is American, at which point Webster persuades the devil to let his client have a trial by jury:
"I stand on the Constitution! I demand a trial for my client!"

"The case is hardly one for an ordinary court," said the stranger, his eyes flickering. "And, indeed, the lateness of the hour–"

"Let it be any court you choose, so it is an American judge and an American jury!" said Dan'l Webster in his pride. "Let it be the quick or the dead; I'll abide the issue!" (Benét 173)
The devil agrees to the conditions, but fills the American jury with traitors, criminals, and other unsavory men nursing a grudge against America. Webster, however, rises to the challenge:
He started off in a low voice, though you could hear every word. They say he could call on the harps of the blessed when he chose. And this was just as simple and easy as a man could talk. But he didn't start out by condemning or reviling. He was talking about the things that make a country a country, and a man a man.

And he began with the simple things that everybody's known and felt – the freshness of a fine morning when you're young, and the taste of food when you're hungry, and the new day that's every day when you’re a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were good things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn't a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors. (Benét 177)
And by his eloquence and gentle manner, Webster reminded those twelve damned men of their innocent childhoods in what came to be America, and of the mistakes that men make, and he even succeeded in getting Stone released from the conditions of his contract with the devil – all by reminding men of what being free Americans felt like, even if the twelve had gone on to err in their adulthoods. Benét's vision of a civic nationalism was thus a very generous one.

Civilizational Literature?

In fact, Benét's civic-national 'Americanism' – despite his aim of composing a uniquely American literature – moved toward broader horizons. This is evident from his attack on fascism in the 1930s, wherein he extended American civic nationalism to Europe no longer simply as judgment but more as solution and assistance. Broader horizons are also notable in his choice of the Faustian theme, for the story of a man making a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for knowledge and power, entails a basic mythos of Western Civilization, the original sin of mankind having been precisely this sort of bargain, namely, one's soul for knowledge and power. Unlike the original mythos, however, but like in Goethe's Faustian reinterpretation, Benét gives the story a twist, such that the devil is defeated. Civic nationalism in America can even overcome 'sin'! It can also therefore – as in "The Blood of the Martyrs" – help purge the extreme corruption of European fascism! Such optimism!


Well, I seem to have gone beyond "Literature and National Community," beyond the nationalism defined by Benedict Anderson, and even beyond English-speaking countries generally, all the way to Western Civilization as a whole! I hope you don't mind. I’m new to this theme. But I wonder if a uniquely national literature is actually possible. Even ethnic nationalism borrows stories from other nationalities, perhaps mostly from stories of other nationalities within its own civilization, though not solely. Stephen Vincent Benét had an American vision for a national literature, but his feeling for Europe, his opposition to fascism abroad, and his re-telling of Western Civilization's fundamental mythos offer a broader perspective on his work, a perspective that ought to orient literary scholars toward a reinterpretation of his oeuvre as greater than American "chauvinism or narrow nationalism."

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso: 2006.

Benét, Stephen Vincent. John Brown's Body. Doubleday, Doran, 1928.

Benét, Stephen Vincent. "The Blood of the Martyrs." Thirteen O’Clock: Stories of Several Worlds. New York and Toronto: Farrar and Rinehart, 1937.

Benét, Stephen Vincent. "The Devil and Daniel Webster." Thirteen O’Clock: Stories of Several Worlds. New York and Toronto: Farrar and Rinehart, 1937.

Benét, Stephen Vincent. Thirteen O’Clock: Stories of Several Worlds. New York and Toronto: Farrar and Rinehart, 1937.

Benson, Jackson J. Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work. University of Nebraska Press, 2009.

Griffith, John. "Stephen Vincent Benét, 1898-1943." Poetry Foundation.

Irving, Washington. "The Devil and Tom Walker." Tales of a Traveller. Carey and Lea, 1824.

Izzo, David Garrett and Lincoln Konkle. "Benét as Dramatist for Stage, Screen, and Radio." Stephen Vincent Benét: Essays on His Life and Work. McFarland: 2002. 215-232.

Izzo, David Garrett and Lincoln Konkle. Stephen Vincent Benét: Essays on His Life and Work. McFarland: 2002.

Miscevic, Nenad. "Nationalism." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition). Edited by Edward N. Zalta.

"Mock." The Free Dictionary Online.

"Mockingbird." The Free Dictionary Online. Cf. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2009.

Rubin, Joan Shelley. Songs of Ourselves. Harvard University Press, 2009.

"Stephen Benet: The Ultimate Objectives of Free Men are to be Discovered in their Arts and Letters." Life. April 5, 1943. 22.

"Stephen Vincent Benét." Companion to Literature: Facts on File Companion to the American Short Story. Abby H. P. Werlock, ed. Infobase Publishing, 2009.
That's the entirety of my presentation - well, I didn't read out the references aloud, but they were in the individual copies possessed by everyone present.

I now have to get ready for today's discussions . . .

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Baron Snow of the City of Leicester

C. P. Snow

I happened to read two passages today about C. P. Snow - the British novelist made famous by his essay on the "Two Cultures" of science and humanities. I met the man himself a year or two before he died. Baylor University's Honors Students were given the opportunity to hear him give a lecture on . . . the "Two Cultures," of course, which we read beforehand in anticipation, and following the lecture, we gathered around the man, just as he was passing through a doorway, to thank him for his lecture and let him know how we appreciated the opportunity to meet him. He looked us for a moment . . . but first, some details about the man:
C. P. (Charles Percy) Snow (1905–1980), Baron Snow of the City of Leicester (he liked to be introduced by his title) . . . wrote a substantial novel sequence, the eleven volumes of Strangers and Brothers (1940-1970) . . . . There is no dance or music to speak of in Strangers and Brothers. Inexorable time is historical; each book sets out to tell a truth about the age . . . . What is remarkable is the way in which he portrays class and class difference[, but] . . . . Marghanita Laski . . . . judges his [literary] efforts "unsuccessful for pervasive egotism." (Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography, 2014, pp. 525-526)
And some more details:
Snow warned his wife against associating with unsuccessful old friends ('this kind of literary subworld is the worst possible for people of our present standing and future hopes'), accepting a knighthood himself because, as he said, 'people who compare me to Trollope ought to realise that I've gone much further in the Public Service than he ever did'. In due course he became a life peer and scientific adviser to Harold Wilson's socialist government. Both of them worried about what his wife's biographer calls 'the concerted campaign to deny him a Nobel prize'. (Hilary Spurling, "A review of 'Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Works and Times', by Wendy Pollard," The Spectator, September 20, 2014)
Anyway, Snow, I mean Lord Snow - I mean Baron Snow of the City of Leicester - looked at us for a moment . . . and grunted in disgruntlement. Truly. I kid you not. 'Twas a genuine gutteral sound. He uttered, but not a word. Talk about a barren snow.

We looked at him for a moment. We knew he could talk - he'd just given a lecture - but he wouldn't talk to us. We withdrew, disconcerted, and left him to his trifles.

I swore never to read another word of his, and - except for that quote above from Spurling's review - I haven't.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Terrance Lindall's "Dinner with the Devil" a Success!

Book Display

My art friend Terrance Lindall sent some photos yesterday from last Friday evening's Dinner with the Devil - at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center (WAH Center) - in honor of The Satanic Verses of Bones Banez, as recounted to Lindall.

First, speaking here is Yuko Nii - well-known artist and founder of the WAH Center - while Lindall sits nearby, manning the sound system and perhaps being introduced prior to reading from The Satanic Verses:

Here's Lindall, reading aloud from the text:

Finally, here's Bien playing the piano with Peter Dizozza:

I wish I could have been there . . . and in some way, I was, for if you look closely at the first photo above, you'll see the yellowish-looking hard copy of my novella - The Bottomless Bottle of Beer - just below the third painting from the right. That was the first edition, and it had a lot of mistakes due to my poor editing - even a missing paragraph from the beginning - so anyone interested in reading the complete and perfected text will have to go for the ebook version, at Amazon.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kate Marie Reads The Bottomless Bottle of Beer!

Long-time reader of Gypsy Scholar, Kate Nanney (aka Kate Marie) recently read my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, and even actually really liked it:
I wanted to tell you that I read your novella and enjoyed it immensely. Toward the beginning of the story, I came upon this sentence and chuckled: "I thought some woman might, some eve or other, find him seductive." It struck me as I read it, though, that I know many young people for whom that sentence would convey nothing other than a dim sense that the gentleman in question was attractive. It was very satisfying -- and delightful -- to find that that kind of religious and cultural amnesia was a theme of your novella (one among many, of course). It was great fun to see how The Master and Margarita, which I have read recently, inspired you. You've inspired me, in your turn, to reread Paradise Lost -- which I have not read in its entirety since college.

Thank you for a very enjoyable and thought-provoking read!
Naturally, I thanked her:
Thanks for the kind words about my novella.

I suspect that many young people would react to "eve" as a misspelling of "evening." One editor in the anthology version caught the allusion, however, and capitalized "eve" as "Eve," not realizing what I was up to - he later promised never to alter anything without checking with me first!

I'm gratified you liked the story - please tell everyone you know to purchase a copy! And to tell others! Nothing less than the survival of Western Civilization is at stake . . .
I then asked if I could post her remarks on my blog, and she responded in the affirmative:
Of course, you may post my response on your blog. It needn't be anonymous. I liked the novella so much I'm willing to sign my name to the review. :)

I will indeed tell all my friends, including "Facebook friends." Never let it be said that I didn't have Western Civilization's best interests at heart.
Yes, and since the majority of my readers also have the West's best interests at heart, I urge all of you to read my story and defend the West!

Oh, and if any enemies of Western Civilization are reading this, read my book, too, and discover how to undermine the West . . .


Monday, September 22, 2014

Foreign Policy's Little Ironies . . .

Andrew C. McCarthy
National Review

My literary friend Carter Kaplan sent me a link to an article by Andrew C. McCarthy, "The Islamic State . . . of Saudi Arabia" (National Review, September 20, 2014), which begins by reminding us of the atrocities we've recently witnessed in the name of Islam:
The beheadings over the last several weeks were intended to terrorize, to intimidate, to coerce obedience, and to enforce a construction of sharia law that, being scripturally rooted, is draconian and repressive.

And let's not kid ourselves: We know there will be more beheadings in the coming weeks, and on into the future. Apostates from Islam, homosexuals, and perceived blasphemers will face brutal persecution and death. Women will be treated as chattel and face institutionalized abuse. Islamic-supremacist ideology, with its incitements to jihad and conquest, with its virulent hostility toward the West, will spew from the mosques onto the streets. We will continue to be confronted by a country-sized breeding ground for anti-American terrorists.

The Islamic State? Sorry, no. I was talking about . . . our "moderate Islamist" ally, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Who is Mr. McCarthy? Some readers may recall that he led the prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven followers in 1995 for their role in the 1993 World Trade Center terrorist bombing, an earlier attack on the WTC now overshadowed by the more successful 9/11 terrorist atrocity, about which everyone is now an expert. Doubtless, McCarthy has learned a lot about 'Islamism' since 1993, for as leader of the prosecution, he would have had to immerse himself in the world of Islamism and Islam, and the fact that the Islamic State is not especially different from Saudi Arabia hasn't escaped his notice.

As McCarthy implies, the ironies of US foreign policy abound . . .

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Soccer Game: Suwon 2 - Pohang 1

Post-Game Photo

My friend Kent invited my family and me to see a live soccer game from the Sky Box of Suwon's World Cup Stadium yesterday. I think I've not been in a stadium since I was an undergrad, when I went once to an American football game in college and found myself bored to tears - except I was too tough to cry - but I never went back. Soccer, however, is a whole new ball game for me, and I can enjoy watching it. There's more action in it than in American football.

To make this blog entry short, I'll just say that Suwon was losing with the score 0 to 1 in the latter part of the second half of the game when I had a call of nature, and when I returned from that call, the score was tied. Only one or two minutes later, Suwon scored again and kept Pohang from scoring till time ran out.

We had the opportunity to shake hands with the Suwon goalkeeper - who's also goalkeeper for the national team - and pose for photographs as well. You see me second from right. My wife is next to me, holding my hand, and I've got an arm on the shoulders of my friend Seung-Tae, a professor at Ewha Womans University, though I first met him in Germany 22 years ago. Kent is the big guy in the green shirt standing beside the equally big goalkeeper. Kent's wife in on the other side of the goalkeeper. The other player in the photo is - I think - the man who scored the winning goal for Suwon. The man between this other player and Kent's wife is no one I know. Finally, you see the four team mascots.

I'm not really one for watching sports, though I'll occasionally watch soccer and basketball, but I had a great time anyway!

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Religious Ambiguity of the Universe: Wolfhart Pannenberg's Death

Fred Sanders - writing a quasi-obituary for Christianity Today on "The Strange Legacy of Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg" (September 18, 2014) - notes that:
For Pannenberg, God does not make himself known through speaking actual words, or through an interior, existential encounter, or in any other way. We know God because he makes himself known indirectly through historical events which are open to all observers, not just the eyes of faith.
This is an enigmatic position - i.e., that "God . . . makes himself known indirectly through historical events" - for historical events are known from imperfect records and their meaning depends, anyway, on inferences from those incomplete records. I understand this sort of theology as based on what I call "the theological ambiguity of the universe."

Everywhere we look - whether to the fine-tuning-of-the-universe design argument or to historical arguments for the resurrection - we find much ambiguity, such that judgment as to the existence of God could go either way, depending on the predilections of the individual.

I deal with this issue, albeit surreptitiously, in my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer . . .

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Christina Rees on "State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now" at Crystal Bridges Art Museum


Art reviewer Christina Rees has a generally positive though occasionally snarky review - and even some rather nasty remarks -- in her article, "State of the Art at Crystal Bridges: Pure Pop for Now People" (Glasstire, September 12th, 2014). First, the positive:
This is real art by real working artists. The populist bent was a considered choice. The exhibition's curators, museum president Don Bacigalupi and staff curator Chad Alligood, traveled the country for nearly two years and visited about 1000 artist studios, and mostly avoided any truly challenging art; nothing here is willfully ambivalent or too subtle or dark. Almost every piece is turned up to eleven in terms of being engaging. Good examples this are the Mom booth, by Andy DuCett of Minneapolis, which will be staffed by real volunteer moms throughout the show's run, or the knitted cave-like hallway that opens the show, by Brooklyn-based Jeila Gueramian.
Generally positive, as I said, and though she might be disappointed at the absence of 'challenging' art - that "nothing . . . is willfully ambivalent or too subtle or dark" - she accepts that the "populist bent was a considered choice." But she can't restrain some snark:
[E]verything is instantly gettable . . . . Get it? Yes. Yes you do.
Maybe these comments weren't meant to be snarky, but the tone strikes me that way. Here's the nasty stuff - not about art, but about the region:
The museum's home of Bentonville, high in the Ozarks (the region is undeniably beautiful), is also home to the Walmart Corporation, and it's a semi-charming town, but the region feels a little spooky. Its stubborn ruralness has a whiff of meth hillbilly. As I walked and drove around town and dealt with my hotel's front-desk people and gas-station cashiers and the like, I could sometimes hear the sinister banjo playing in my head.
The "sinister banjo" is a reference to a scene in the movie Deliverance, a famous scene showing an inbred young hillbilly playing a banjo in a musical duel with a city slicker: "Dueling Banjos." While they're both playing, the hillbilly seems friendly, but turns unfriendly immediately after they finish - even though he won the duel - and refuses to shake the city slicker's hand.

As for the "whiff of meth hillbilly," that's simply gratuitous insult, unless Ms. Rees has some reason better than "stubborn ruralness."

Nevertheless, the review has some interesting things to say about the art, so go read it in its entirety for the positive remarks and a few photos of images from the exhibit - or see even more on the museum's own website: "State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now."

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Al-Baghdadi: Emulating Islam's Prophet Muhammad?

Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi
Leader of the Islamic State

In its Inquiry and Analysis Series, Report No. 1117, "Understanding Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi And The Phenomenon Of The Islamic Caliphate State" (Memri, September 14, 2014), Y. Carmon, Y. Yehoshua, and A. Leone offer their analysis of the Islamic State's intentions and its self-justification, which I condense below in a version with bold-fonted, underlined points to consider:
This report seeks to clarify the IS's doctrine based on the organization's official writings and speeches by its leaders. It will argue that, unlike Al-Qaeda, the IS places priority not on global terrorism, but rather on establishing and consolidating a state, and hence it defers the clash with the West to a much later stage. In this, it is emulating and reenacting the early Islamic model . . . . Al-Baghdadi's vision of the Islamic state is modeled on ancient Islamic history, and therefore does not descend to the level of wallowing in contemporary Middle East politics and struggles . . . . In the current stage, the IS is concentrating on consolidating its rule in the parts of Iraq and Syria it has already conquered, and on expanding its rule in these countries, beginning with areas where there is a Sunni majority. The next stage will be conquering the bordering Muslim states. The second issue of Dabiq[, the IS's English-language magazine,] cites a reliable hadith of the Prophet that precisely defines the organization's order of priorities following the establishment of the state - first Saudi Arabia, then Iran and ultimately "Rome": "You will invade the Arabian Peninsula, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. You will then invade Persia, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. You will then invade Rome, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. Then you will fight the Dajjal, [an Islamic reference to the false messiah,] and Allah will enable you to conquer him."["In the seventh century Islamic texts, 'Rome' referred to the Christian Byzantine empire. In contemporary Islamist texts, it refers to Christendom in general."] . . . . In his approach that prioritizes the consolidation of the Islamic State over an all-encompassing battle with Islam's enemies, Al-Baghdadi is emulating the Prophet Muhammad – the ultimate Islamic role model.["Al-Baghdadi also claims to share the Prophet's lineage when he calls himself Al-Qurayshi, a member of the Quraysh tribe, to which the Prophet belonged."] The Prophet, while displaying cruelty in battle ­– cruelty mirrored by the IS – put off battles with his enemies and integrated compromises and tactical agreements in his policy, in order to gather strength prior to renewing action to obtain his ultimate goals.["This is exemplified by the Al-Medina Constitution of 622, which extended rights to the Jews to ensure their political absorption. These rights were subsequently withdrawn when Muhammad was able to expel them from the city in 628. Another example is the 628 Peace of Hudaibiya with the Meccans, which lasted 18 months, until the Prophet was able to realize his most cherished goal of taking over Mecca and the holy Ka'ba."] The IS, ruling from its informal capital in Syria's Al-Raqqa, conducts itself in a similar manner [as Muhammad], enforcing the laws of the shari'a while selling oil to Europe via the black market. ["As for the atrocities against Yazidis and the Al-Shaitat tribe, and the persecution of Christians, these conform to ancient Islamic doctrines with regards to idolaters, Christians, and apostates to which the Islamic State is committed."]
The interesting point for my concerns is the fact that the IS looks to Muhammad as "the ultimate Islamic role model" - what I have elsewhere termed "Islam's moral exemplar" - such that Muhammad's cruelty is mirrored in the IS's cruelty and used as a justification for the IS's actions.

Clearly, if reform is going to come to Islam, the would-be reformers will have to deal effectively with the "cruel Muhammad" image found in the Qur'an, the Sunnah, and the Hadith.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Islam: A Violent Religion?

Flag of Islamic State
Image from The Global Panorama
Christianity Today

Writing for Christianity Today (CT), Morgan Lee asks, "Does Islam Encourage Violence More Than Other Religions?" (September 12, 2014). I'm encountering this question more and more and listening carefully to people's responses. Nobody wants to come out and say directly that Islam is more violent, but their manner of expressing themselves reveals their answer to the question. Take Professor Rodney Stark, for instance:
In CT's interview with Rodney Stark earlier this year on why global religious hostility is on the rise, the Baylor University sociologist suggested that Muslim violence was largely because "most Middle Eastern nations have several Muslim groups that have been bitter enemies for centuries."
The primary example of this would be the Sunni-Shia conflict, which has been going on for 1400 years! This is evidence of what? That one Islam wouldn't be violent, but two 'Islams' are? Stark next offers a grab-bag full of reasons for Muslim violence, but read the reasons carefully:
"Some 75 percent of the people who died from religious hostility in 2012 were Muslims killed by Muslims. Then the terrible bitterness among them gets fanned by the enormous anger in these countries toward the West: the jealousy arising from poverty; technological backwardness; and then, of course, being appalled at the West's immorality, especially as depicted in the media," said Stark. He also argued that "religious violence isn't something new in the world,” and noted that he hesitated "to think there is anything peculiar to the Islamic tradition. There is a problem, to be sure, in that Muhammad butchered people for their irreligion. But the fact is, Christians have killed each other by the millions too."
Just consider that passing remark about Muhammad: "There is a problem, to be sure, in that Muhammad butchered people for their irreligion." These words reveal what Stark really thinks, but doesn't want to think. Stark knows that Muhammad is the moral exemplar for Muslims. If Muhammad did or said something, then that deed or word is the moral thing to do or say. If Stark thinks "that Muhammad butchered people for their irreligion," he is implying that Islam is violent at its very core.

The so-called 'Islamic State' (IS) also believes that Islam is violent at its core, else it wouldn't be showing to the world all those videos of its own atrocities - acts of violence that the IS considers sacred violence - and going on to justify the violence, even sanctify it by pointing to Muhammad's violence.

We call this "Islamism," but is Islamism simply the violence at the very core of Islam?

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Also for reading the atmosphere of a too quiet classroom in Korea . . .

Have some nunchi?
Illustration by Rose Wong

In "Looking Another Culture in the Eye" (NYT, September 13, 2014), Erin Meyer tells of a recent educational experience she had in Tokyo:
While traveling in Tokyo recently with a Japanese colleague, I gave a short talk to a group of 20 managers. At the end, I asked whether there were any questions or comments. No hands went up, so I went to sit down. My colleague whispered to me: "I think there actually were some comments, Erin. Do you mind if I try?" He asked the group again: "Any comments or questions?"

Still, no one raised a hand, but this time he looked very carefully at each person in the silent audience. Gesturing to one of them, he said, "Do you have something to add?" To my amazement, she responded, "Yes, thank you," and asked me a very interesting question. My colleague repeated this several times, looking directly at the audience members and asking for more questions or comments.

After the session, I asked my colleague: "How did you know that those people had questions?" He hesitated, not sure how to explain it, and then said, "It has to do with how bright their eyes are."

He continued: "In Japan, we don't make as much direct eye contact as you do in the West. So when you asked if there were any comments, most people were not looking directly at you. But a few people in the group were looking right at you, and their eyes were bright. That indicates that they would be happy to have you call on them."
Ms. Meyer goes on to note that an absence of this ability to spot what people want has a name:
In Japan, there is an expression popular with young people: "kuuki yomenai." Often shortened to "K.Y.," it refers to someone who is unable to read the atmosphere.
This inability is the opposite of what the Koreans call nunchi (눈치, pronounced "noonchi"), an ability to read the atmosphere of a situation. But Koreans also have an expression for the inability to read atmosphere: nunchi eoptta (눈치 없다), meaning "nunchi is lacking."

The next time I inquire whether my Korean students have any questions, I'll remember to look for the shining eyes . . .

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Holocaust Recividus? J Speaks

Howard Jacobson
Photo: Hindustan Times via Getty
The Spectator

In James Walton's first response to Howard Jacobson's new novel, he writes, "Howard Jacobson's J convinced me that I'd just read a masterpiece" (The Spectator, 13 September 2014), but he soon had some doubts. First, the conviction:
I finished the book, in fact, convinced that I'd just read a masterpiece.
But 'reality' sets in:
The trouble comes with reflecting on it afterwards. Once you're not being swept along by Jacobson's prose, the awkward realisation dawns that he's not joking, in more ways than one. Nor is he merely trying to write a work of dark fantasy. For the novel to carry the kind of punch he clearly intends, it needs to be at least imaginable that, within the next few years, the British people could rise up against the country's Jews, who still occupy 'a particular, even privileged place in the nation's taxonomy of fear and loathing'. And that once they had, the crime could be buried. And that British Christians still define themselves against the Jews.
I haven't read the book - I can't read everything! - but perhaps Jacobson is listening to the political left that has aligned itself with radical Islamists and openly re-uses antisemitic tropes. Could that be what the novel is really focusing on?

Of course, I'm mildly speculating, but the fact is that the rise of antisemitism in Europe these days is not so much rightwing as it is Muslim and leftwing.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Terrance Lindall's "Dinner with the Devil"

Dinner with the Devil
Email from Terrance Lindall

Terrance Lindall sent me an email to remind me of his "Dinner with the Devil" - partly in honor of the artist and soothsayer Bienvenido "Bones" Banez - on this upcoming Friday the 19th of September, 2014, at 7:00 p.m. More details are available here on The Satanic Verses, a collaborative work by Lindall and Banez, as well as glimpses of their artwork used in illustration of the poem. I am not an unbiased reporter:
"The poetic conceit that Bones is working with is that we're already living in the tribulation of the eschaton, and the poem is his artistic vision, accompanied by vivid, electrifying artworks depicting, in some way, those troubled times." - Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
But this man knows the score:
"Consisting of ten books, lavishly illustrated with Banez's visual masterpieces, The Satanic Verses, in alignment with Paradise Lost, contextualizes the devil in times of modernity. The collection obviates man's archaic fear of the hellmaster, which for six millennia prevented humankind from understanding Divine perfection. From being God's chief rival in earlier books, Beelzebub, taking advantage of man's power of reasoning, morphs himself as everything that tempts, pleasures, and taxes man, snaring practically everyone, believers and unbelievers alike. Ultimately, the Prince of Darkness is disclosed with sound philosophy as instrument for the actualization of a higher, yet unrealized, Almighty scheme!" - Phillip Somozo, Journalist and Art Critic, Manila, The Philippines
And this man knows even more:
"Without a doubt, Terrance Lindall is the foremost illustrator of Paradise Lost in our age, comparable to other great illustrators through the ages, and someone who has achieved a place of high stature for all time." - Dr. Rober J. Wickenheiser, Renowned Milton Collector
Check out this website: The Satanic Verses! Given Lindall's stature and Banez's genius - or vice-versa - you can bet this Dinner with the Devil will prove a lively time as Lindall recites from the epic poem inspired by Banez, and Banez plays his Satanic Rhapsody, not to mention dinner music by the Julianne Klopotic Duet! Possibly also a reading of my poem "Hell's Bells," depending on Lindall's whimsy, if the time and the mood are right . . .

I can't make the event, for I'm stuck in Seoul, but if you'll be in New York City that evening, get your tickets now.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nothing to do with Islam?

Dennis B. Ross
The Washington Institute

On the recent anniversary of 9/11, Dennis B. Ross warned us in an article, "Islamists Are Not Our Friends" (NYT, September 11, 2014), that Islamists are not our friends:
[D]o not reach out to Islamists; their creed is not compatible with pluralism or democracy.
Right. Don't do that. I agree with Ross. We should have nothing to do with Islamists. We should reach out, instead, to the non-Islamists in our foreign policy toward the Islamic world. Go read his sensible article.

But an essential question remains for those of us interested in more than the pragmatic realm of foreign policy: How does Islam differ from Islamism? The usual response is that Islamism is a politicized Islam. This raises a nearly intractable problem: Islam itself is politicized, for it is based on a legal system - the shariah - that has laws on nearly everything.

Some analysts therefore say that our argument is with Islam in general. Is this the case?

From the many, many citations of traditional sources that Islamists offer, I can't agree that Islamism has nothing to do with authentic Islam, though we often hear this said. Indeed, we hear it said so often that we begin to think maybe Islamism does have something to do with Islam.

Either that, or there are many, many, many Muslim 'misunderstanders' of their own religion who are so confused that they mistake Islamism for Islam.

But if some Muslim spokepersons insist that Islamism such as the sort practiced by the current-day 'Islamic State' is not truly Islamic, then ask them if they themselves can appeal to shariah - to the Qur'an, the sunnah, and the hadith - to oppose the Islamists, and if so, which specific sources they can cite. If they can reveal through these sources that true Islam is actually a liberal religion that, for example, supports equal rights for men and women, supports freedom of speech for everyone, supports the right for an individual to leave Islam, and so on, then fine.

But if the Islamists turn out to have the stronger arguments for what Islam is, then Islam itself is the problem.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Are we already cyborgs?

The Terminator Cyborg
Google Images

Benjamin Wittes and Jane Chong think we're already cyborgs, and so does the US Supreme Court:
In June 2014, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Riley v. California, in which the justices unanimously ruled that police officers may not, without a warrant, search the data on a cell phone seized during an arrest. Writing for eight justices, Chief Justice John Roberts declared that "modern cell phones . . . are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy."(1)

This may be the first time the Supreme Court has explicitly contemplated the cyborg in case law—admittedly as a kind of metaphor. But the idea that the law will have to accommodate the integration of technology into the human being has actually been kicking around for a while.
Wittes and Chong offer this example in their very readable article "Our Cyborg Future: Law and Policy Implications (pdf)" (Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings, September 2014). They go on to discuss the larger implications for privacy and our probable reinterpretation of what should be considered "private."

I've long considered a cyborg to require physical integration of a person and a machine, but a significant number of thinkers disagree with me and consider possession of a smartphone by an individual to mean that that person is already a cyborg. Maybe so, but there's something about physical integration of person and machine that crosses a threshold not crossed by some individual holding a smartphone.

(1) "573 U.S. Supreme Court [Riley v. California] ([June] 2014). Justice Alito wrote a separate opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment."


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sara Elizabeth Low: 9/11

Sara Low's Life Stone
Google Images

Regular readers will know that each year I recall Sara Elizabeth Low, a flight attendant who perished on American Airlines Flight 11, the first airliner crashed by the terrorists into the World Trade Center, as I learned on September 13, 2006, when my brother Tim told me that he had known her and her family when he lived and worked in Batesville, Arkansas, her hometown:
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.
Sara has been remembered more for her life than for her death, or that is at least the intention behind the "Life Stone" in her hometown. That is also my intention today, as well as my brother's intention in remembering her, as I'm sure he does each year on this date.

As for those who perpetrated the horror of 9/11, let's not forget that others like them are still out there actively looking for their chance to strike . . .

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Keith Loria on Marcus Kyd as the Old Adversary

The Devil In His Own Words
Photo by Scott Suchman

Theater critic Keith Loria calls our attention to an upcoming performance about the Prince of Darkness, "Marcus Kyd, chasing the Devil for Taffety Punk's revival" (DC Theatre Scene, September 8, 2014):
Marcus Kyd had lots of questions about what was being taught to him [as a child growing up in a Catholic home], especially about the Devil . . . . "The Devil was always confusing to me. My big question was, 'Why would a creature like this exist?' It's scary when you are a kid . . . . It was never sufficiently answered for me . . . . In 2001, I was reading Milton's Paradise Lost, as I had exhausted all Shakespeare and was still hungry for classical literature, and the portrayal of Satan in that story was fascinating to me . . . . I had never seen such a thought-provoking, sympathetic portrayal and what Milton did really got me excited as he took the point of view of the character, the way a playwright would, and provided a motivation. He became much more than just this black-and-white mythological creature and started to seem human."
That Miltonic experience led to wide reading:
After that, Kyd was hungry for more. His search for other works turned up an almost unlimited amount of literature about the Devil, as it seemed almost every famous writer had tackled the supernatural entity in some way.
He then did something similar to what I did in my novella:
"I started pulling my favorites out and I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but I knew there had to be a show in this," he says. "I started fitting bits and pieces together to see if I could fit it into a narrative."

The result is The Devil in His Own Words, a fast-paced tragicomedy that digs deep into the identity of humanity's oldest villain.
There's more to read at the site, and also a brief video of the show's opening lines. If any of my readers are in Washington, DC between September 12 and October 4 and happen to see the performance, then let us know your response.


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Heritage Foundation on Why the Islamic State is so Dangerous

In "11 Reasons Why ISIS Might Be More Dangerous Than al-Qaeda" (The Daily Signal, Heritage Foundation, August 28, 2014), five commentators - Steven Bucci, James Phillips, Charlotte Florance, Helle Dale, and Peter Brookes - join together to warn that the Islamic State (IS aka ISIS aka ISIL) "must be forcefully addressed and stopped." I've condensed their eleven reasons:
[The Islamic State] is . . . . a hugely successful movement with an apocalyptic, nihilistic philosophy . . . . [that threatens] the world . . . . [It] excels in using social media as a tool of terrorism . . . . [and] the West is often . . . [the] target audience . . . . [Its] territorial control allows for consistent stream of funding, [and b]ecause of . . . [its] rise to prominence, many al-Qaeda-linked groups are now pledging allegiance[,] . . . . giving [the Islamic State] . . . access to a global network of terrorists . . . . [It] controls territory the size of Maryland in the heart of the Arab world, which is important for a predominantly Arab revolutionary terrorist group[, and it] . . . . has evolved into a proto-state, with its own army, civil administration, judiciary and a sophisticated propaganda operation . . . . [It] is the most heavily-armed Islamist extremist group in history, . . . . [and] 80 percent of the foreign militants that flock to Syria join [the Islamic State] . . . . The leader[,] . . . Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, is a charismatic leader who claims descent from the Prophet Mohammed . . . . [The Islamic State] is . . . [geographically] placed to not only attract recruits from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States, but [also to] get them into the fight . . . . [It] has declared the rebirth of the Caliphate[,] and the leader of [the Islamic State] . . . has proclaimed himself to be Caliph Ibrahim[, who happens to lead] . . . . the richest terrorist group in history.
These are all valid points except for the expression "nihilistic philosophy." The Islamic State has an ideology, not a philosophy - a religious ideology, in fact - and this ideology is not nihilistic. The Islamic State aims at expanding the Caliphate over the whole world and ruling the earth under shariah. Its values and interests run counter to ours, but the Islamic State is not nihilistic.

One question that remains is how to forcibly address and stop this terrorist state without making things worse.


Monday, September 08, 2014

Slavoj Žižek Repeats Himself!

Slavoj Žižek

Upon reading Slavoj Žižek's recent essay in the NYT, I had the sense that it was not quite apposite in being titled "ISIS Is a Disgrace to True Fundamentalism" (September 3, 2014) - as if that 'disgrace' were the worst thing about the Islamic State! When I finished reading the essay and looked carefully at the Editors' Note (September 5, 2014), however, I saw why Žižek's essay failed to fit expectations:
After this essay was published, a reader pointed out that several sections had originally appeared, in identical or substantially similar form, in Slavoj Zizek's 2008 book, "Violence: Six Sideways Reflections." The New York Times does not ordinarily reprint material that has been previously published; Op-Ed contributors are asked to affirm that their work is original, and exclusive to The Times. Had The Times known that portions of the essay were copied from an earlier work, it would not have accepted the essay for publication.
That likely already speaks volumes about Žižek's 'integrity,' assuming he knew of this policy (which he did) - and also explains why 'disgrace' is not a proper term with which to critique the Islamic State - but I'd like to dig a bit deeper into Žižek's failure of analysis, for the worst this continental philosopher can say about the Islamic State is that it lacks self-confidence:
The problem with terrorist fundamentalists is not that we consider them inferior to us, but, rather, that they themselves secretly consider themselves inferior. This is why our condescending, politically correct assurances that we feel no superiority toward them only makes them more furious and feeds their resentment. The problem is not cultural difference (their effort to preserve their identity), but the opposite fact that they already like us, that, secretly, they have already internalized our standards and measure themselves by them. Paradoxically, what the fundamentalists of ISIS and those like them really lack is precisely a dose of that true conviction of one’s own superiority.
In Žižek's world, the Islamic State is barbaric because the Muslims fighting for it are "terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists . . . deeply bothered, intrigued and fascinated by the sinful life of the nonbelievers," such that, "in fighting the sinful other, they are fighting their own temptation." I wouldn't entirely reject this point - the 'Western' Muslims fighting for the Islamic State likely have experienced such temptation - but this can't explain the entire movement. Nor does this:
[T]hese ultra-modern practices [of the Islamic State] are used to propagate and enforce an ideologico-political vision that is not so much conservative as a desperate move to fix clear hierarchic delimitations.
Žižek never takes the time to specify what these "hierarchic delimitations" are. Does he mean the rejection of equal rights for all? Muslim women as second-class citizens, Jews and Christians as third-class, pagans as no-class? He never clarifies. Most of all, he fails to recognize the arrogance and lack of self-doubt evinced by the Islamic State, so his analysis is therefore entirely unhelpful for the circumstances we currently find ourselves in.

I suspect that many readers would consider Žižek himself the disgrace.

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Islamic State not Islamist?

Seal of Islamic State

In video Clip No. 4471 (August 31, 2014), "Jordanian-Palestinian Politician: There Is No ISIS Ideology – It's Islam," Memri reports on a "Palestinian-Jordanian politician Muhammad Bayoudh Al-Tamimi[, who] recently defended ISIS . . . . [on a] show . . . [that] was posted on the Internet by ANB TV on August 31, 2014." Let's see what Mr. Al-Tamimi says about analysts and TV commentators who criticize the Islamic State:
The problem with the analysts and the TV commentators who talk about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is that what they say is completely off-track. They have accused ISIS of being an Iranian product, an American product, the product of the Syrian regime, the product of all the world's devils . . . But it has become evident that ISIS is waging an all-out war against each and every one of these players. It is waging war in Iraq against Iran. Yesterday, it made incursions into Iranian territory in the province of Azerbaijan, where it took over seven towns. Now it is crushing the Nusayri Alawite regime in Syria, shattering the backbone of its military forces: the 17th Division, the 93rd Brigade, and the Tabqa military airbase. ISIS is on the march against the Nusayri Alawite regime in Syria, and against Iranian influence in Iraq. The ISIS doctrine stems from the Quran and the Sunna. The Quran and the Sunna constitute their ideology, doctrine, and conduct. If we want to tell the truth, we must cross the t's and dot the i's, and analyze this phenomenon . . . it is no longer just a phenomenon, but a fact on the ground . . . Today, the whole world is divided into two camps – one led by America and its satellites and the other led by the Islamic State. The war is raging between these two camps and everybody leans towards one camp or the other. This is true especially of the Muslims of the world. They support the U.S. and its collaborators and Iran and its Safavid agenda, or else they support (ISIS) . . . There is no such thing as "ISIS ideology" – it's Islam.
Mr. Al-Tamimi doesn't sound like an entirely rational 'expert' to me, given his paranoid, conspiracy-theory division of the world into two camps, but I suppose he's echoing the traditional Islamic concept of the world as divided between the realm of Islam and the realm of war.

I wonder how many Muslims agree with him that the Islamic State truly is Islamic because its "doctrine stems from the Quran and the Sunna." I don't know the precise answer, of course, but I see that many Muslims appear to agree on this point, namely, that the Islamic State does follow the Quran and the Sunna . . .

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Foreign IS Fighters Banter Cruelly About Sex Slaves

Muthana Tweet on Yazidis
Google Images

In Special Dispatch No. 5833 (September 3, 2014), Memri reports that "French, British IS Fighters Discuss Use Of Yazidi Women As Sex Slaves." Memri first offers some context:
During its takeover of large parts of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, the Islamic State (IS) captured many Yazidi villages, and reportedly took many Yazidi women to be sold and used as sex slaves. Chatting on social media, foreign IS fighters have bantered about the issue and discussed various points of the Islamic law regarding slavery. Their discourse reveals that, according to their understanding of these laws, Muslims may own and sell non-Muslims as slaves, especially women, whom the master may use and even rape as he pleases.

A Facebook discussion on the matter was launched on September 3, 2014 by a French IS fighter named "Abou Jihad," who is in Syria and is one of the main propagators of IS materials in French.
Now that we understand the circumstances, let's read what these heroic, manly, holy warriors have to say about sex slavery - and as not to quote too much, I'll post only the French jihadists' remarks (translated):
French IS Fighters And Supporters On Facebook, September 3, 2014

Abou Jihad: "350 dollars for the Yazidi girl in Mosul if you want LOL" [...]

Abu Selefie: "I heard there were slaves in Raqqa is it true?"

Abde-Rahman: "I saw it was around 180 dollars per slave LOL"

Abou Muhammad: "You have revived a tradition"

Abou Jihad: "Yes I heard brothers say there are some in Raqqa as well [...] 180 dollars must be [the price] for the ugly ones"

Abde-Rahman: "LOL I am laughing so hard"

Shinobi: "LOL And how much is it in spare parts? Check and see if you can get kidneys or livers there is demand."

Dawla: "What are the slaves for? Is it like your wife but without a marriage contract?"

Amine: "If they become Muslim are they freed?"

Abou Jihad: "It's not really like your wife, they can be used for intercourse [the writer uses a vulgar French expression for sex], you make her work in the house, and you send her to work at your parents', stuff like that."

Cara: "If she becomes Muslim it seems to me that you don't have to free her. It's obligatory if you have a child with her..." [...]

Dawla: "You can have children with her?"

Cara: "Yes but . . . she would then be free." [...]

Abou Jihad: "It's the child that is free, not the woman (if she is not Muslim)"

Mehdi: "Personally does not sound appetizing [...] I prefer my future wife rather than a dirty slave."

Dawla:" So you can be intimate with her without a marriage contract? And you can have more than one?"

Abou Jihad: "Yes [...] they are idolaters, so it's normal that they are slaves, in Mosul they are closed in a room and cry, and one of them committed suicide LOL and Yes I have 350 dollars LOL" [...]

Abou Selma: "And what if the slave refuses the intercourse? And what if your wife refuses to let you have intercourse with the slave?

Mehdi: "Wow those are good questions..."

Dawla: "Women are so jealous, they will never agree" [...]

Abou Jihad:" A woman that stays at your house and that doesn't want you, after a while she will crack, she will have to have sex with you. And also the slaves are scared of the mujahidin so they feel that they have to LOL"

Abou Selma: "Second question: what if your wife refuses?"

Abou Jihad: "She can't refuse [...] It's a tradition" [...]

Mouhamad: "I have 3500 dollars to spare, I am going to buy 10, who wants one?"
The word "tradition" - which I have bold-fonted and underlined - means that the use of sex slaves is Sunnah (or "well-trodden path"), specifically, that Muhammad and his fellow Muslims used sex slaves and that having slaves for sex is thus acceptable.

As for these jihadis, just consider their level of 'humor,' the quip by Shinobi, for example: "[H]ow much is it [i.e., the slave girl,] in spare parts? Check and see if you can get kidneys or livers there is demand." Or Abou Jihad's use of LOL to laugh at a Yazidi girl who committed suicide rather than be used as a sex slave. Or his LOL to laugh at the enslaved woman so frightened that she accepts being raped.

And I always thought real men were supposed to protect women . . .

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