May 2008

by Mohja Kahf

No, I’m not bald under the scarf
No, I’m not from that country
where women can’t drive cars
No, I would not like to defect
I’m already American
But thank you for offering
What else do you need to know
relevant to my buying insurance,
opening a bank account,
reserving a seat on a flight?
Yes, I speak English
Yes, I carry explosives
They’re called words
And if you don’t get up
Off your assumptions
They’re going to blow you away.

From Mohja Kahf, E-Mails from Scheherazad (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003), p. 39.

For some partisans, no matter who is elected President to succeed George W. Bush, it will seem like the end of the world. We are in the apocalypse silly season once again. Take Tim LeHaye, the doctrinal inspiration of the WASP-friendly Left Behind book series (Jerry B. Jenkins provides the verbal inspiration in sci-fi style); he has been preaching the politics of biblical apocalypse for years. Indeed, since the apostle John allegedly first had his vision on the island of Patmos, the world has been teetering in the end times. This world is always going to hell; Jesus must be coming soon. Bible-belting believers and bible-belching evangelists constantly look to the heavens with rapturous delight for the mother of all shock-and-awe shows to begin. Up go the faithful in the twinkling of an eye and then it is open tribulation season on the Jews that will make the 20th century Nazi holocaust look like a sabbath picnic. Fortunately, most of the world’s Christians look at such a naive-ity scene with alarm. “Even so,” it might be said, “do not come Lord Jesus.”

Reverends Tim LeHaye, Pat Robertson and John Hagee are not the only mega-mouths who know deep down in their saved souls that they will not be left behind. Ironically, they share theologically-maddened space with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the shi’a-evangelical President of Iran. As noted in a New York Times article today by Nazila Fathi, the Iranian President’s “high father” is Imam Mahdi, the hidden 12th “twelver” Imam who occulted well over a millennium ago, but whose reappearance has been looked for year after year in popular imagination. Ahmadinejad, who loves to wear his religion on his sleeves, says that Imam Mahdi guides his day-to-day decisions as a president. In gratitude, Ahmadinejad has sponsored an institute to prepare Iran for the Imam’s immanent return. This would be like Bush asking his faith-based supporters to create a special office in Homeland Security on Eternal Security Risks to those Left Behind. (more…)

Recently, all members of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion received a copy of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed (2007), which is based on Gallup’s World Poll — specifically on polls conducted between 2001-2007 which included tens of thousand of face to face interviews. The authors identify nine counterintuitive discourses that emerged from the poll:
1. Muslim rejection of the notion of the West as monolithic. Criticisms are based on politics, not culture or religion.
2. Muslim dreams for the future focus on better jobs not Jihad.
3. Muslims are just as likely as American to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustified.
4. Those that condone terrorists are a minority and no more religious that those who reject terrorism.
5. Muslims around the world admire the West for its technology and its democracy – same as Americans.
6. Muslims least admire the moral decay and break down of traditional values – same as Americans.
7. Muslim women want equal rights and religion in their societies.
8. The one best thing the West can do to improve relations is to moderate their views toward Muslims and to show respect towards Islam.
9. The majority of those surveyed was religious leaders to have no direct role in crafting constitutions but favor religious law as a source of legislation.

To those who study Muslims, none of these are a surprise or really counterintuitive, or even much of a discovery. However, it is nice to have the weight of a Gallup poll to support what Anthropologist such as myself knew from direct observation.

In the latest New York Review of Books, Malise Ruthven offers a cogent review of nine recent books about Islam and terrorism. Here is a brief excerpt about Noah Feldman’s The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State. Check out the online article for the full review.

Excerpt from Malise Ruthven, “The Rise of the Muslim Terrorists,” New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 9, May 29, 2008

Jihadis are not the only political activists seeking an Islamic state that will restore the Sharia—the holy law of Islam—to the position it held in pre-colonial times. In a short but masterful exposition, The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, Noah Feldman seeks to answer a question that puzzles most Western observers: Why do so many Muslims demand the “restoration” of a legal system that most Occidentals associate with “medieval” punishments such as amputation for theft and stoning for sexual transgressions? What do they mean by, and expect from, an Islamic state?

Feldman’s analysis focuses on the crucial responsibility of the Ottoman state for the decline of the Sharia. Pre-modern Islamic societies were for the most part governed according to an informal division of authority between the military rulers (often outsiders such as the Mamelukes, recruited from warrior societies, which were far removed from Islam’s cultural centers) and the religiously trained class of legal scholars conversant with the law. The informal compact comparable to, but different from, the feudal arrangements in the West conferred legitimacy on the military men on condition that they upheld the authority of the scholars. The system of scholarly control over law encouraged “stability, executive restraint, and legitimacy.” (more…)

By ELIAS KHOURY, The New York Times, May 18, 2008

IN 1948, during the war known to the Israelis as the war of independence, the historian Constantine K. Zurayk wrote the book “Ma’na al-Nakba,” later translated as “The Meaning of the Disaster.” The title struck a resounding chord, and nakba (catastrophe) became the term Palestinians used for the cataclysm that befell them that year.

I always considered the word “catastrophe” inappropriate. It rendered the perpetrator anonymous, and it exempted the vanquished from bearing any responsibility for their defeat. Like many members of my generation, born around the time of the war, I tended to place the blame for our defeat on the traditional Palestinian leadership under the sway of the mufti of Jerusalem, and the Arab regimes of the day. (more…)

By now all but the most ardent of Bush administration admirers must face the obvious: the mission in Iraq was never accomplished, only botched. Historians and pundits will devote tomes upon tomes in assessing one of the most egregious blunders in American foreign policy. But it is not that difficult to see how it happened. Take a horrific tragedy (9/11), a convenient scapegoat (Muslim extremists), a personal grudge (Saddam surviving the first Gulf War and bragging about it), ideological nitwits (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, and the list goes on), a bottom line (oil supply), a fear factor (WMDs) and outright lies. Much of the evidence for the Iraq Debacle survives on videotape. Now Christopher Cerf and Victor S. Navasky have documented what the “experts” bungled in their recent Mission Accomplished or How We Won the War in Iraq: The Experts Speak (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008).

Cerf and Navasky operate out of The Institute of Expertology, an outside the Beltway anti-think tank that reveals that most would-be intellectual emperors have no clothes, and many of these stand stark naked without shame, even after being exposed. The case for the prosecution is both cute (without having to change a word of the neocon experts) and acute, as the architects of the Bush Iraq Debacle walk the planks they themselves imagined out of hot air. Here is a sampling of the neoconceit anti-principles that got us into this mess: (more…)

Washington Dispatch: In a taped sermon, the preacher McCain calls a “spiritual guide” calls on America to see the “false religion” of Islam “destroyed.” Still, the candidate won’t reject Rod Parsley’s endorsement.

By David Corn, Mother Jones, May 8, 2008

During a 2005 sermon, a fundamentalist pastor whom Senator John McCain has praised and campaigned with called Islam “the greatest religious enemy of our civilization and the world,” claiming that the historic mission of America is to see “this false religion destroyed.” In this taped sermon, currently sold by his megachurch, the Reverend Rod Parsley reiterates and amplifies harsh and derogatory comments about Islam he made in his book, Silent No More, published the same year he delivered these remarks. Meanwhile, McCain has stuck to his stance of not criticizing Parsley, an important political ally in a crucial swing state.

In March 2008—two weeks after McCain appeared with Parsley at a Cincinnati campaign rally, hailing him as “one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide”—Mother Jones reported that Parsley had urged Christians to wage a “war” to eradicate Islam in his 2005 book. McCain’s campaign refused to respond to questions about Parsley, and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee declined to denounce Parsley’s anti-Islam remarks or renounce his endorsement. At a time when Barack Obama was mired in a searing controversy involving Reverend Jeremiah Wright, McCain escaped any trouble for his political alliance with Parsley, who leads the World Harvest Church, a supersized Pentecostal institution in Columbus, Ohio. Parsley, whose sermons are broadcast around the world, has been credited with helping George W. Bush win Ohio in 2004 by registering social conservatives and encouraging them to vote. McCain certainly would like to see Parsley do the same for him—which could explain his reluctance to do any harm to his relationship with this anti-Islam extremist.

Here’s a video—produced by Mother Jones and Brave New films—highlighting Parsley’s remarks and McCain’s praise of the pastor: (more…)

A Horseman Stopping at a Bedouin Camp, Giulio Rosati , 1858 – 1917

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