March 2008

“Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretic,” (Illuminated manuscript, thirteenth century, from Morgan Library, New York, M. 92, ©Morgan Library)

The history of Islam, like that of any religion, is littered with heretics. When you start with a divine revelation, revealed only in an Arabic dialect understandable to a seventh century illiterate Prophet alone in a cave with an archangel, add a cult of personality adoration for this Prophet and then acknowledge a cycle of violence and assassinations within the emerging Muslim community, heresy is inevitable. So who were the heretics over the fourteen centuries of the Islamic ummah? In a sense, everybody. Certainly every single sect calling itself Muslim has been attacked by some other sect. It is not just the majority Sunni vs. the marginalized Shi’a, nor the rational Mutazilites vs. the hardline literalists, nor the Arabs vs. the non-Arab converts, nor the trained clerics vs. the itinerant dervishes, nor simply the women-can’t drive Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, the Buddha-bashing Taliban or those brave souls who pursue Queer Jihad. Simply put, the heretic is the person who does not take your truth as his or her own. (more…)

Noah Feldman, left; Said Arjomand, right

by Saïd Amir Arjomand, from The Immanent Frame

Noah Feldman prefaces his plea for the Shariah in his recent article for The New York Times Magazine (”Why Shariah?“) with a reference to the proposal recently made by the Archbishop of Canterbury to allow the Shariah and Jewish law to be considered in voluntary family and arbitration courts. The Archbishop and the Professor are addressing very different issues, however. The situation of a Muslim religious minority having the option of voluntary recourse to arbitration or court settlement in Europe, as proposed by the former, cannot be responsibly compared with that of a Muslim majority using the coercive power of the state to stone women accused of adultery in Nigeria, or to perpetuate patriarchal domination in Pakistan by keeping even those women who are eventually acquitted by superior courts in shackles and behind bars for many years.

In this article, presumably as a forerunner of his new book, Feldman extends the paternalism of the failed American empire in What We Owe Iraq to the entire Muslim world by telling the Muslims how good they really are; surely they would not realize this without the American law professor telling them. In telling them, he displays one of the worst examples of Orientalism. (more…)

Scene from the Divan of Hafiz, Herat School, 1523, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

O beautiful wine-bearer, bring forth the cup and put it to my lips
Path of love seemed easy at first, what came was many hardships.
With its perfume, the morning breeze unlocks those beautiful locks
The curl of those dark ringlets, many hearts to shreds strips.
In the house of my Beloved, how can I enjoy the feast
Since the church bells call the call that for pilgrimage equips.
With wine color your robe, one of the old Magi’s best tips
Trust in this traveler’s tips, who knows of many paths and trips.
The dark midnight, fearful waves, and the tempestuous whirlpool
How can he know of our state, while ports house his unladen ships.
I followed my own path of love, and now I am in bad repute
How can a secret remain veiled, if from every tongue it drips?
If His presence you seek, Hafiz, then why yourself eclipse?
Stick to the One you know, let go of imaginary trips.

Hafiz, Divan, Ghazal 1

Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme’s “Napoleon in Egypt,” 1867-68.

Please read the following quote:

“Gangs of thugs looting, as well as other hooligans, thieves, pickpockets, robbers, highwaymen, all having a field day. Relations between people ceased, and all dealings and business came to a standstill. The roads in the city became insecure, not to mention those outside it. Violence flared up in the countryside, and people began to kill each other. They stole cattle and plundered fields. They set fire to the barns and sought to avenge old hatreds and blood feuds, and so on.”

So who said this and what tragedy is being described? If you are thinking that this could be the post of an embedded journalist in Iraq or an Iraqi blogger looking out at the violence on the streets in the past couple of days, it would not be a surprise. Of course, this kind of atrocity-ridden rabble-ous melee has happened over and over again. When security goes down the tubes, violence almost always takes over. This is not because humans are evil by nature, but evil times draw out the worst in us all.

The excerpt above was written as an eye-witness account about events in Cairo in 1798. The author was ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, an Islamic religious authority who wrote a chronicle of events about the invasion of Egypt by a Western power. (more…)

Time Magazine
covers the world and the covers of Time Magazine tell us a lot about the way the world is viewed from a mainstream American media perspective. Take, for example, the case of the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who came to power in Egypt in 1956

For an interesting account of Time‘s cover-age of Nasser, check out the blog “Egyptian Chronicles.”

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, The New York Times, March 23, 2008

The Iraq war is now going better than expected, for a change. Most critics of the war, myself included, blew it: we didn’t anticipate the improvements in security that are partly the result of last year’s “surge.”

The improvement is real but fragile and limited. Here’s what it amounts to: We’ve cut our casualty rates to the unacceptable levels that plagued us back in 2005, and we still don’t have any exit plan for years to come — all for a bill that is accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second!

More important, while casualties in Baghdad are down, we’re beginning to take losses in Florida and California. The United States seems to have slipped into recession; Americans are losing their homes, jobs and health insurance; banks are struggling — and the Iraq war appears to have aggravated all these domestic woes. (more…)

[Note: Given the media feeding frenzy on the post 9/11 remarks by Dr. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity UCC Church in Chicago, it is important to note that the UCC has been a leader in opposing the current war in Iraq. Here is a statement issued some nine months ago.]

A Pastoral Letter on the Iraq War From the Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ

Written by Collegium of Officers, United Church of Christ, June 22, 2007

“God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.”
(Isaiah 5.7)

The war in Iraq is now in its fifth year. Justified as a means to end oppression, this war has imposed the new oppression of terror on the people of Iraq. Justified as the only way to protect the world from weapons of mass destruction, this war has led to the massive destruction of communal life in Iraq. Justified as a means to end the rule of terror, this war has bred more terror. Every day we look for justice, but all we see is bloodshed. Every day we yearn for righteousness, but all we hear is a cry.

Thousands of precious American lives have been lost; thousands more have been altered forever by profound injuries. We grieve each loss and embrace bereaved families with our prayers and compassion. Tens of thousands more innocent Iraqi lives are daily being offered on the altar of preemptive war and sectarian violence. They, too, are precious, and we weep for them. In our name human rights have been violated, abuse and torture sanctioned, civil liberties dismantled, Iraqi infrastructure and lives destroyed.. Billions of dollars have been diverted from education, health care, and the needs of the poor in this land and around the world. Efforts to restrain the real sources of global terrorism have been ignored or subverted. Trust and respect for the United States throughout the world has been traded for self-serving political gain. Every day we look for justice, but all we see is bloodshed. Every day we yearn for righteousness, but all we hear is a cry. (more…)

by Christopher Hitchens

[Excerpt from Christopher Hitchens, god is not Great (New York: Hachette, 2007), pp. 278-280.]

On a certain day in the spring of 2006, President Ahmadinejad of Iran, accompanied by his cabinet, made a procession to the site of a well between the capital city of Tehran and the holy city of Qum. This is said to be the cistern where the Twelfth or “occulted” or “hidden” Imam took refuge in the year 873, at the age of five, never to be seen again until his long-awaited and beseeched reappearance will astonish and redeem the world. On arrival, Ahmadinejad took a scroll of paper and thrust it down the aperture, so as to update the occulted one on Iran’s progress in thermonuclear fission and the enrichment of uranium. One might have thought that the imam could keep abreast of these developments wherever he was, but it had in some way to be the well that acted as his dead-letter box. One might ad that President Ahmadinejad had recently returned from the United Nations, where he had given a speech that was much covered on both radio and television as well as viewed by a large “live” audience. On his return to Iran, however, he told his supporters that he had been suffused with a clear green light — green being the preferred color of Islam — all through his remarks, and that the emanations of this divine light had kept everybody in the General Assembly quite silent and still. Private to him as this phenomenon was — it appears to have been felt by him alone — he took it as a further sign of the immanent return of the Twelfth Imam, not to say a further endorsement of his ambition to see the Islamic Republic of Iran, sunk as it was in beggary and repression and stagnation and corruption, as nonetheless a nuclear power. But like Aquinas, he did not trust the Twelfth or “hidden” Imam to be able to scan a document unless it was put, as it were, right in front of him. (more…)

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