Skypecast: Foreign Policy into 2009 (Audio Content)

Scott and I discuss economics, the global political frame, and the future into 2009.  We begin by discussing a recent fairly grim post of mine (Happy New Year!!!) and then discuss potential creative ways out of the morass.

[Click the links below, pts1 & 2 for the audio.]



Thomas Barnett post
My apocalyptic post
James Poulos’ Uncrackables
John Robbforeign-policy1

Scott’s post/embedding of the audio (if you have trouble on mine)

Olivier Roy: Conversations with History

The text of the interview can be read here.

Roy discusses his latest work Globalized Islam.  It is the most important work I have read on Islam and the modern world.  The guy is brilliant and worth the listening to.  His distinction between Islamists and neofundamentalists lies at the heart of his work and completes the ideas he began in his earlier work The Failure of Political Islam. He was on Convos w/History once earlier to discuss that work–link for that video here.

I’ll be talking more about his work to come–I’m working on a paper I’m hoping to get published in Integral Review on the entire question of the Islamic modern state, using Roy’s analysis as background, and then comparing Abdullahi an-Na’im and his new work Islam and the Secular State alongside Noah Feldman’s The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State. I will be analyzing both works through an integral lens.  Interesting to note, the American secular Jew Feldman calls for a sharia state while the Sudanese Muslim (living in exile in America) calls for a secular state. But that is Roy’s point exactly:  the East is Westernized and the West is Easternized.

A takeaway point from Roy’s work is that Islamists can be worked with in many cases; neofundamentalists not so much (at least radicalized ones).

Noah Feldman on BookTV

The Link. Discussing his new book The Rise and Fall of the Islamic State. I’ve discussed Feldman’s work before (here for example).

This book follows on his previous (and recommended) work: After Jihad. Feldman is one of the principal theorists to help translate for the West the constitutions of both Iraq and Afghanistan. What Feldman is calling a modern version of sharia as rule of law.

There is a great deal that could be said about this talk/book. I’ll be breaking down in some future posts, but I want to highlight the historical time line Feldman provides.

Stage 1: Classical Age of Islam.
–The rise of Islamic Law (Hadith, the Schools of Jurisprudence) and the Balance Between the Ulema (The Scholars) and the Monarchs.

Stage 2: Colonial Era
–The Ottoman Empire seeks the codification of the law (as opposed to in Stage 1 as oral tradition based on the learning of the scholars/moral authority) and creates then disbands a parliament as a means of enacting the codified rule of law.
–Then the destruction of the clerical class sped up by the colonials who then install puppet regimes throughout the Muslim world who are no longer checked in their power once the colonials depart.

Stage 3: The Current Era
–The move to re-introduce sharia as a check (rule of law) on autocrats/dictators as un-Islamic figures. This to be done through parliaments/judiciaries and not a return to the ulema.  But started under the auspices of two foreign Western occupations (Iraq, Afghanistan) and the inevitable insurgencies.  i.e. Not the best of circumstances to try out this vision.

Bending of the Knee

One of John McCain’s compadres went and shot his mouth off (this is happening all too frequently with the disorganized debacle that is the McCain campaign). This time, resident jackass Bud Day (you’ll remember him as one of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a sterling organization to be sure) opened up his yap and stupid came rolling out. And I quote the good Colonel:

“The Muslims have said either we kneel or they’re going to kill us.”

Colonel Bud Day added: “I don’t intend to kneel and I don’t advocate to anybody that we kneel, and John doesn’t advocate to anybody that we kneel.”

First off, who in Allah’s name are “The Muslims?” There are only like a billion of them. Obviously this guy isn’t thinking and this isn’t a rational statement, but it gets to the larger point of the stupidity of the “War of Civilizations” mindset so common on the right.

As Bob Wright has said so many times, it’s not that there is such a war or battle. It is that by continuing to talk, believe, and act based on the premise of one, you can end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy.  More darkly put, consciously or otherwise, the hardline right needs this kind of fight (big wars don’t look looming on the horizon no matter how much McCain talks smack about Russia and China), the Soviet Union is dead, and they need a unified theory of evil incarnate–the neocons especially as this is part of Strauss’ theory of the Noble Lie.

In this same line was the documentary (and that’s me being generous calling it a documentary) Fitna by Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders (another resident jackass this time from across the pond). Watching that disaster was like someone taking a cheese grater to my skull.

In said sorry excuse for a film, Wilders just puts up passages from the Koran advocating violence and the like interspersed with images of Muslim terrorists (or is terrorists who are Muslim?) killing people or calling for blood, etc.  Decontextualized, free floating–truly postmodern s–t.

All of which only works (following the Wright self-fulfilling thesis) to further validate that the al-Qaeda/jihadi vision is in fact THE (as in the One and Only) correct reading of the Quran/practice of Islam.  That’s their exegesis of the book in a nutshell.  Random quotations, no history, assumed obvious meaning, one world myth of given bs.

From a purely tactical standpoint, how more ignorant can one get? The whole point is to undercut your enemy and separate them from the host population (something they are doing very well themselves by killing Muslim civilians thank you very much) not unite them.

What Day has done is plainly state that John McCain’s candidacy is about destroying Islam. Now I don’t actually think McCain wants to do that, but you see it doesn’t matter. That’s the whole point. The perception is the reality on this one.  At least, McCain is making clear he’s not opposed to people thinking he is conflating “Islamic extremism” rather easily with Islam per se and Muslims in toto.

And since McCain is a Christian it will be seen as yet more proof that the so-called War on Terror is really a Second Crusade, with the Christians coming back to finish job.  Again that it isn’t “actually” this doesn’t matter.   To think otherwise is to fail to understand the basic law of cause and effect.

Of course I know that Day is just some redneck moron and his views are basically meaningless. Which is to say it wouldn’t matter except for the fact of how this will play elsewhere. How does that come across in other environs? How does that (to again invoke the Wright thesis) not play perfectly into the hands of conspiracy minded fools around the world? That America, to quote a Pastor whose endorsed McCain (and McCain hasn’t repudiated so far as I know), was created to destroy Islam.

There is no such thing as Islam, the one and only version of it. Not the moderate version, not the jihadi-herretical view, not the orthodox (whoever defines that).  Just like there is no one anything.  Hence the best play is to undermine the pathological ones and at least do no harm to the healthy (healthier) ones.  But for the love of God don’t undermine them and strengthen the virus.

Published in: on July 18, 2008 at 7:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Obama Larry King

Two reasons I’m posting this.

1)Obama mentions that the New Yorker cartoon (and more importantly the emails/whisper campaigns it was meant to satirize) offend Muslim Americans. And that he, Obama and his campaign, have not always done the best in speaking out on this subject–focused usually as they have been (properly) on saying that he is not a Muslim. But sometimes it comes across as if that were intrinsically a bad thing or something if he were (which he’s not). So hat tip for that one.

[For what’s worth on the magazine, he says it’s satire, doesn’t think it worked as satire (I agree–it wasn’t funny whether or not it was offensive), but it’s a cartoon for God’s sakes and there are more important things in the world.]

2)BO is clearly getting down the language of saying that McCain is only focused on tactics and not strategy. Strategically the war was a mistake and the surge (and continuing it a la McCain) is only further embedding the strained military in an un-winnable conflict. The strategy has failed whatever tactical victories are gained. [i.e. The victories are non-sustainable as they have no political framework within which to stick. McCain is absolutely silent on this issue.]

Published in: on July 16, 2008 at 7:44 pm  Comments (3)  

PZ Myers Update

Hat tip to my man C4, for pointing me to this response interview with PZ Myers (as C4 says in a comment to my earlier post, PZ still doesn’t get it).

Key piece (MnIndy=Minnesota Independent, the newspaper published/gave the interview)–my emphasis:

MnIndy: What about the stories of US military personnel urinating on and otherwise abusing copies of the Koran in Iraq? Were you outraged by that, or is that a different version of this for you?

Myers: There’s a subtle difference there — maybe an important difference. I don’t favor the idea of going to somebody’s home or to something they own and possess and consider very important, like a graveyard — going to a grave and desecrating that. That’s something completely different. Because what you’re doing is doing harm to something unique and something that is rightfully part of somebody else — it’s somebody else’s ownership. The cracker is completely different. This is something that’s freely handed out.

MnIndy: Do you see a parallel between this case and the furor in the Netherlands (and later the Islamic world at large) over cartoonists’ depictions of Mohammed? It seems unlikely that these Catholics would take kindly to being compared to Islamic extremists, but death threats over the fate of a host suggests it’s not an unfair characterization.

Myers: Of course! Both are demands that quirky sectarian peculiarities be given undue respect by those who don’t believe in them. Furthermore, the majority of the email I’m receiving is making it explicit: they are telling me that I should not abuse their sacred icon, but that I should instead go do something sacrilegious with the Koran.

As to the first question, the “cracker” in question is given out to baptized Roman Catholics and it is presumed that one is a member of the religious community (hence the fear of someone improperly taking it without valid standing in the community). Or in other denominations like mine, any baptized Christian. While it is not correct to say the Church “owns” the Eucharist, since in Catholic theology it is a bearer of the presence of God–and God can not be owned or controlled–it is true to say that the community has been entrusted with the ritual and has its own standards of helping to bring about good order and proper practice of the religion.

In other words, there is an implicit recognition of mutual responsibility on both sides. Those receiving communion are expected to be approaching the table in good faith. This is not consumerism and the idolization of the individual’s rights: nobody has a right to the “cracker” in question. It isn’t a consumer product that is there to fulfill my needs and nothing else. It’s not just “given out” like a free sample at the grocery store. (more…)

Published in: on July 14, 2008 at 3:20 pm  Comments (4)  
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Jewish Messiahs Pre-Jesus?

Fascinating article this morning in the NyTimes (h/t Andrew Sullivan) describing a new archaeological find that has the scholarly world abuzz.

A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

So far no one has argued against its authenticity/dating:  somewhere within the 1st century BCE it would appear.  There are however some debates over the meaning of the text.

The text is a visionary/apocalyptic text dictated by the Angel Gabriel similar in style to writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls and intertestamental period more generally (e.g. The Book of Enoch).

The rest of the article details the work of Israel Knohl whose earlier book The Messiah Before Jesus posited that the later themes of Christian messianism–suffering messiah, death and resurrection–were actually prefigured in the writings of the Dead Sea Scroll.  Knohl believes this finding further proves his thesis.

If true, this would argue against a long-held tradition (within both some Christian and Jewish exegesis) that the notions of a resurrection and dying messiah were Christian inventions.  It could interestingly I think be linked up with another scholar I’ve often recommended, Margaret Barker.  She has argued that the tradition of the Incarnation and the notion of the Trinity (or at least Binity of Father and Son of God) was actually an older strain of Judaism that Christianity revived rather than a move away from traditional monotheistic Judaism.

In other words, if the thesis of Knohl’s is even mostly correct, it returns to the notion (one I strongly support) that Christianity is really a variant form of Judaism.  The so-called New Testament was written by Jews and it makes no sense–and never has to me–how these Jews would see Jesus as anything other than Jewish and there movement as anything other than Jesus.  But it is a form of Judaism that is not primarily Rabbinic Reformed Judaism (the tree root of all three modern branches of Judaism).

This idea has much stronger textual weight than pathetic “Gnostic Jesus” mumbo jumbo (although it sells well)–i.e. that Jesus is just a cipher for Greek pagan myths.  This theory similarly assumes the non-Jewish roots of Christianity.

To return to Barker for a second, it is very intriguing that the figure in the newly discovered stone text is none other than Gabriel.   Gabriel recall is the angel who announces the pregnancy of Mary and is the transmitter to Muhammad of the Quran.  Barker repeatedly emphasizes that Enoch (sometimes equatable with Gabriel) could also be seen as God not simply as the Angel of God.  [Her book argues that the Angel of God is synonymous with the Son of God, what she calls The Second God].

In these visionary apocalyptic texts the Angelic figure can merge with human figures (and vice versa), the messiah, the receiver of the text.  They can all bleed into each other.

So I haven’t seen this text, but as a way out there speculative guess, it would be very interesting if the Angel Gabriel in a sense could interchange with the predicted messianic figure creating a parallel symmetry between the Angelic figure coming down and the Messianic Figure Rising Up (after himself going down into death).

Knohl then unfortunately heads into the vaporware of arguing for the Historical Jesus–that is for Knohl Jesus really did believe that he was the Messiah and was going to die and rise.  Long time readers of this blog will know my agnosticism and general lack of appreciation of the entire Historical Jesus Quest (see here) but even more so the dreaded debate on what Jesus Really Thought.

In legal hermeneutics, this is difference between original intent (i.e. what the Framers really were thinking) and original intended public meaning (what is originally meant as best as we can reconstruct in the public sphere).  In this case, it’s even worse as it is not just the original intent of the authors (of the Gospels) but the original consciousness of the person whom the Gospels portray.

It goes back to Frederick Schleiermacher and the 19th c. Romantic Germanic tradition (including Dilthey) who argued that understanding a text was about getting in a sympathetic/in touch mood with the individual personal consciousness of the author.  [Again in the case of Jesus even one more step removed as he wasn’t the author].

In other words, even if Knohl’s thesis is correct, it still doesn’t get us to what Jesus himself did or didn’t think.   It gets us to the original tradition from which the texts were written and Jesus was not an author.  If Knohl is right, all this tell us is that the followers of Jesus saw him in this tradition–it could be that that is because that is how Jesus really taught/was or it could just be that was their tradition.  There is just no way to know in either direction.

More Saturday Morning Canadian Blogging: Religion Edition

From the CBC:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier will be attending a banquet Saturday celebrating the opening of the biggest mosque ever built in Canada.

The $15-million Baitan Nur mosque in northeast Calgary covers 4,500 square metres, or 48,000 square feet, and was constructed largely through donations from the city’s small but rapidly growing Ahmadiyya Muslim community.

The Ahmadiyya movement of Islam was founded 100 years ago, originating with the teachings of Indian villager Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and is renowned today for promoting a peaceful coexistence with people of all faiths and cultures.

The wiki on the Ahmadiyya’s is here.  They are not accepted by most (so-named) mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims.  The group believes that Miraza Ghulam Ahmad was the Second Coming of Christ/Mahdi (Return Messiah in Islamic lore).  They are known as given to energetic proselytism and suffer persecution as a result (esp. in Pakistan).  On the other hand, they  (particularly the larger branch which this mosque belongs to) tend towards a non-violent praxis (as do most persecuted minority sects).

The website of the Ahmadiyyas in Canada here.

Image of Mirza:

Published in: on July 5, 2008 at 9:26 am  Comments (3)  
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geert’s fitna

Geert Wilders Dutch MP has released his 15 minute film Fitna (“strife”) over the internet today. It is a controversial film, incendiary in nature (whatever one’s opinion of the view expressed therein). It contains graphic graphic imagery–including footage of severed heads and executions.

I had to think long and hard about whether to link to it or not and if so how. On the one hand I support free speech, and believe people should make up their own minds. On the other, I found it to be like a number of other films in this new genre, highly suspect methodologically–before even the question about politics.

My decision is to link to this BBC Article which gives some background and explains how to view the movie (i.e. where to find it on the web). Again warning: it is extremely graphic in nature.

There is a lot that could be said about the film. I’ll just focus on a few themes.

The movie uses Qu’ranic citations interspliced with scenes from al-Qaeda attacks (Twin Towers, Madrid Bombings), Arab Satellite imams preaching vile hatred of infidels, shots of children being indoctrinated into an ideology. Plus the requisite Islam is the new fascism meme. Then statistics about how many Muslims are in Europe and how they are growing at a fast rate.

The clear message of course is which all European Muslims are suspect, are part of this trend, and what to install Sharia which I find patently disgusting. No images or the voices of Muslims who respect rule of law and free society in Europe. If there is violence as a response, it is not to blamed on Wilders–no one has a right to respond in violence. Still I have to question the decision to make and produce. As St. Paul said what is valid or able to be done is not necessarily what should be done–not everything allowed builds up.

I find it interesting (though not that surprising) that Wilders’ exegesis of the Quran is exactly that of al-Qaeda. That is citations from the Quran free float; there is no background to the text, nor to any of the specific chapters mentioned. Just like the Wahabis, the Quran then exists as this timeless command for all places and beings rather than a specific set of pronouncements for a certain time, a certain place, and a certain community.

It is a completely modernist form of reading the scriptures. Fundamentalism (like Wahabism/Salafist Islam) is a completely modern phenomenon. It is the attempt to turn stories, ways of life, into a set of eternal precepts and propositions that are either believed (Wahabis) or not (Wilders)–but either way neither is traditional and both assume the same ground.

Everything Wilders shows that is evil is Islamist: persecution of religious minorities & gays, subjugation of women, glorification of violence and militarism, and so on and so forth. And even within Islamism, the large majority seek to enact their version of sharia through democratic, representative forms.

It is the pathological form of patriarchy that served humanity in certain respects as a move upwards 1400 years ago, but is now regressive and destructive as compared to modern free liberal societies.

I point that out because at the end of the film there are a series of lines that to the effect of Islam wants to dominate you….Islam will not let you be free.

When what he really is describing is Islamism. To be fair, even the term Islamism is a poor one because for many Muslims (not without reason) Islamism simply means rule by the principles of their faith.

But in the sense in which it has come to be used in both scholarly and popular circles, i.e. the imposition of a rigid tyrannical form of law based on an understanding (a misunderstanding in my book) of the scripture and tradition, that is enforced on all regardless of their belief in said system or not.

That ideology particularly in the West which has a tradition of toleration, separation of religion and state, secularism, and free thought, must be fought. But it must be done so in a way that invites Muslims to enter society on their terms as both a Muslim and a free citizen.

Too many right-wing Americans (and some right-wing Europeans) lament the secular state of European affairs, the exclusion of religious discourse from the public square. vs.. the US where religious faith can be discussed so long as the government does not endorse any view and the individual is willing to have his or her faith questioned or possibly critiqued in public.

When it comes to Islam however these same right-wingers often to my mind want to reinforce secularism. So at the nub, it looks like the talk of wanting to bring religion back into consciousness and the public square really means Christianity (and perhaps Judaism). They will make some general point about moderate Islam. Moderate Islam is not what is needed and when it appears (if it ever does) these same individuals are not usually supportive of it. An Islam that is both rooted in the tradition and open to pluralistic society is what is required.

Published in: on March 27, 2008 at 3:27 pm  Comments (3)  
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Why Shariah?

The title of Noah Feldman’s recent piece in the NyTimes. This is a very subtle essay, one to be read two, three times to really ingest it. Feldman whose book After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy was very influential in the framing of the Iraqi Constitution. I wrote on this book elsewhere (here--way to the bottom of the post) and interestingly predicted that his book should have been titled Islamic Rule of Law.

Why is that interesting–because in this piece Feldman argues that one of the reasons the call for shariah grows in so much of the Islamic world is that it functions (or can function) as a way of the rule of law.


Much more after jump. (more…)

Published in: on March 22, 2008 at 9:23 pm  Comments (4)  
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