Monday, October 18, 2010

It's more complicated than that. . .

This is a thought-provoking article on land reform in Dawn:

Myth and reality of land reform

. . . The populist redistributive land reform model bifurcates the city from the countryside. The latter is intuitively treated as a world unto itself where the issue of inequity would be resolved through localised methods of giving land to the tiller. In this portrayal the village appears mired in tradition and backwardness. If village life was captured in a poster, the caption would be: ruthless landlord oppressing the hapless peasant. . . .

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Peace will be an outcome of liberation, not its starting

- Moshe Machover

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

And now for something completely different. . .

I am aware that the content of this blog can be a little bit . . . negative. So let me share with you my own feelings of elation today at a story which has no dark underbelly.

Regardless of how this came about, regardless of what will happen next, I don't think there is a human being on this earth who didn't feel a little pang of relief at hearing that the last miner was out.

In 2000, when the Russian submarine Kursk was reported to be sitting at the bottom of the ocean, the news that all of the survivors of the initial explosion had asphyxiated was profoundly saddening for me. For some reason, I had some special sympathy for all those young men sitting in the dark at the bottom of the sea, waiting for a rescue that ultimately never came. When I heard that 33 miners were trapped at the bottom of a collapsed mine in Chile, I feared a similar result.

Alhamdulillah, this time we got a happy ending.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Who else argues like this?

Perusing the Fearosphere so you don't have to! That's right, it's another edition of our ongoing series "Teh Mozlems are Coming!"

Today's entry comes from the "Center for the Study of Political Islam" an institution (to use the term loosely) that has been polluting the internet over the last 4 years with it's self-published erudition - available to you in print form starting at $8.95 per book, plus taxes and shipping!

In a seminal high-school english assignment, entitled "Statistical Islam", the good folks over at the CSPI (yes, they get an acronym!) demonstrate how thoroughly they have mastered Islam.

"The Koran, in turn, points directly to Mohammed. It says 91 times that Mohammed is the perfect Muslim. He is the divine human prototype, the only pattern acceptable to Allah. The actions and words of Mohammed are so important that they have a special name—Sunna. We find the Sunna in two texts. The Sira is the biography of Mohammed and the Hadith is the collection of hadiths (small stories, traditions) about Mohammed.

"Islam is based on Koran and Sunna. Since the Sunna is found in the Sira and the Hadith, this means that three books contain all the doctrine of Islam—the Trilogy. If it is in the Trilogy (Koran, Sira, Hadith), then it is Islam. If something is not in the Trilogy, then it is not Islam. All of the Islamic doctrine is found in the Trilogy. Now, we have the complete information with no missing pieces."

There is a proverb that goes "Associate yourself with seekers of truth, but stay away from those who have found it." Amongst Muslims, there are a host of groups and individuals who use a chauvinistic sort of reasoning to claim that they have cornered the market on spiritual truth. And yet the traditional Muslim schools of thought are filled with hundreds of volumes of exegesis of the Qur'an, of the Hadith, and of the work of previous scholars. The so called "Trilogy" (which, aside from the Qur'an, is comprised of dozens of books of varying authenticity) may be a solid data-set, but its interpretation is obviously more complex.

With the assistance of a handy graph, the sages at the CSPI go on to argue:
. . . If Mohammed had continued with preaching religion we can extrapolate that there would have only been 265 Muslims when he died, instead of the 100,000 that resulted from his politics and jihad. This gives us an estimate of 265 conversions due to religion and 99,735 conversions to due the political jihad process. We can calculate the relative contributions of religion and politics in growth. Islam’s success was 0.3% religion and 99.7% politics 7 at the time of Mohammed’s death, 632 AD. . . . The statistical conclusion: Islam is primarily a political ideology.
The obvious conclusion that the authors are trying to lead us to (unsurprisingly, they made up their minds before they started this little study) is that Islam is not like Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism, or any other religion, but more like Communism or Nazism - a material ideology rather than a faith tradition.

This is, of course, because the authors never considered (or at least, never wrote an essay on) what would have happened if, for instance, the Jews of the Torah hadn't been instructed to drive out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan following their Exodus from Egypt. The authors never take notice of how Hinduism privileged the invading Aryans over the native (and vanquished) Dravidian peoples by giving domination of the priestly Brahmin caste almost exclusively to Aryans.

I don't think I really need to explain how the spread of Christianity was, ahem, "accelerated" through politics and warfare.

A religious practice that exerts no influence and has no political consequences is not likely to spread. While a few highly intellectual people might find satisfaction in a private spiritualism, the majority of people look to religion not only to answer their philosophical questions about the universe, but also provide them with guidance in how to order their relationships with other people. All of the major religions encourage a communal practice, around which a community can be built that strives toward a common set of virtues. That necessitates politics.

Of course, if your goal is to convince people that Islam is more like Communism than Christianity, then pointing out the political success of other major religions doesn't help.

What does help, however, is to claim that Muslims have more in common with Nazis than they do with Neopagans:
The Trilogy of Medina is even more negative about the Jews than Hitler’s Mein Kampf. What marks the biggest difference between Mein Kampf and the Trilogy is that Hitler did not write first section in Mein Kampf detailing how much he admired the Jews. There is a contradiction about how the Koran treats Jews in Mecca and how they are treated in Medina. Due to dualistic reasoning, both attitudes about the Jews are true, at the same time.
So now we have the Qur'an being portrayed as worse than Mein Kampf. Now, I've never read Mein Kampf. For all I know, it's mostly about how much Hitler hates Austrian prison food. The comparison, however, is useful for the conclusion that our self-styled "Islamic Scholars" are driving us towards, because Mein Kampf is nonetheless associated in the popular consciousness with the attempted extermination of the Jews.

The alternative hypothesis is, again, not considered: that the positive references to Jews are general, dealing with the religion as a whole and its great prophets, while the negative references relate to specific circumstances, like being surprised from the rear by a Jewish tribe in Medina, even as you were trying to defend yourselves from an external attack by the Meccans.

This reasoning is not unique to critics of Islam, but also to its self-declared stalwarts. Much of the anti-Jewish sentiment that has spread through Muslim communities (particularly after 1948, but also before) is based upon a similarly decontextualized reading of the Qur'an. Ironically, the strongest allies that the anti-Islam movement has are some of the most ostentatiously religious elements within the Muslim ummah.

Both groups claim to have an indisputable hold on what Islam is, and both groups employ a simplistic reading of primary sources in order to justify their views. "This is Islam," each says "and anything else is something you made up." They are fond of quoting one another, each to inspire fear of the other in their audience. Ironically, the protagonists act to strengthen their opponents.

It's almost as if they want a conflict.

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