Thursday, January 30, 2003

Islam and Dhimmitude (2)

by Bat Ye'or addresses several questions: "If Jews and Christians are or recently were oppressed under Islam, why don't we hear them complaining?", "Why, given their history of oppressing Christians and Jews, do we find so much support for Muslims in the West?", and "What causes the current anti-semitism in the MidEast and Europe?"

First things first: the book is hard to read. I don't think English is her first language (she was born in Egypt); though her English is much better than my French. The book is both scholarly and polemical, with both copious references and very strong language. Her focus is the fate of the Jews.

A dhimmi is a Jew, Christian, or Zoroastrian who, as part of a conquered people, agrees to accept protection from Muslims and a revocation of a standing death sentence by paying special taxes and accepting strict and humiliating limits on his activity. The much-touted Muslim tolerance and welcoming of other religions turns out to have been limited pretty much to two times and places: Persia during the 'Abbasid era (when, curiously enough, Muslims were still a minority among Christians and Zoroastrians, and it probably wasn't a smart idea to try to get too oppressive) and the Turkish part of the Ottoman empire in the 1400-1600 era.

A lot of the humiliating dhimmi rules were borrowed from the Byzantine empire's rules for treating Jews. These were firmly integrated into the religious law for Islam, and so could no longer be changed.

One of the reasons Islam spread so fast through Africa and the MidEast was that the Byzantine empire had an oppressive tax system, and tried to suppress both heterodox and heretical Christian groups. The result was that the Muslim conquerors seemed to offer a chance of getting out from under the tax burden and to not be oppressed by the hated Byzantine church hierarchs. Surprise: they were oppressed anyway after the Moslems consolidated their power.

Given this framework of contending churches, it made excellent sense to try to play them off against each other. Though a dhimmi community was given quasi-autonomy to regulate its internal affairs, the Muslim authorities appointed the leaders and kept the different churches and Jewish groups separate. The appointments were generally made on the basis of how well the Christian or Jew was willing to cooperate with authorities in raising revenue, and the result was a tendency to appoint corrupt men. These community leaders have an interest in trying to deflect attention from their group to other groups.

A dhimmi who allied with foreign powers was, of course, a traitor and forfeited his life. Appealing for help qualifies as alliance. In addition, there seems to have been a tendency to punish an entire community for the actions of a single person. So the leaders have a responsibility to try to suppress dissent in their own communities.

Such is the basic framework. Within that situation, Bat Ye'or says that the dhimmi develops an attitude of dhimmitude, similar to that developed by oppressed and hopeless populations anywhere, but structured by the particular rules of their environment.

In particular, characteristics of dhimmitude include internalizing as an attitude the "they are better than me" role you are required to play. Under no circumstances is criticism of Islam appropriate. And, thanks to the power disparity, the first defense is to lay low and say nothing, and the fallback defense is to try to deflect hatred onto somebody else.

I did not grow up in anti-semitic churches, and Ye'or's descriptions of the doctrines and attitudes of the Orthodox and Catholic churches over the centuries and through the 20'th were rather startling to me, though they tally with incidents from the history I knew. Ye'or describes the appalling story of how many of the Eastern churches institutionalized hatred of the "deicide" Jews. [What I think of this doctrine is a matter for another post.] Apparently the Catholic church is a wide enough umbrella that quite a number of less-than-fully orthodox opinions can be published, but the fact that the Roman Catholic Community of Jerusalem published the first arabic translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion suggests that things have been out of hand for a long time.

  • The first question, "If Jews and Christians are or recently were oppressed under Islam, why don't we hear them complaining?" she answers by pointing out that complaint has always been dangerous. The mood of Western media is not sympathetic when they do complain, as in Lebanon and in Egypt (when was the last time you heard about the plight of the Copts?). That they were oppressed in the past is beyond argument. That in some places (Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon) Christians still are oppressed is also quite clear. I have heard anecdotal reports from Palestine that Christians live in special danger from the Palestinian authorities (both official and unofficial), but no systematic surveys. It tends to give the lie to the official statements of Palestinian Christian leaders, though. She claims that there is a large degree of self-deception among Christians who try to identify with Pan-Arabism in order to be included in the rest of society as equals. Of course this is doomed to failure.
  • The second question, "Why, given their history of oppressing Christians and Jews, do we find so much support for Muslims in the West?", she answers by pointing to the historical support the French and English offered during their empire building and jockeying for power; by pointing out that oil is a critical resource; by pointing to the massive propaganda campaign; pointing out the (recent) growing Muslim populations in Europe, and by claiming that the attitudes of dhimmitude have passed from the Eastern churches to their counterparts in the West. In order to try to link themselves more firmly into their societies, the Eastern churches have advertised, and may in fact have originated, the claim that the Palestinians are the true Israelis and that the Jews are impostors. This can be only be integrated into a Christian framework by denying that Christianity came from a Jewish home and accepting at least in part the Muslim doctrine that all men are originally Muslims; since Pan-Arabism is Pan-Islamism under the covers.

    I think there is more to it than this. Several other writers brought up one very simple contribution to Western support for Muslims in the MidEast: hospitality. The Arabs maintain the MidEastern 4000 year old respect for hospitality, and by all reports are very good at making visitors feel at home and welcome. Some people in the US are like this too, but on the whole our culture lacks this very great virtue. OK, imagine yourself a reporter covering events in and around Israel. One group works hard at hospitality, and the other doesn't. Who will you feel friendlier toward, and hang around with more?

    I think that calling the attitude of those Western churches following the Eastern churches' example "dhimmitude" is rhetorical overkill. That it plays exactly into Muslim hands is true, but the psychology is different. I have to grant her that false guilt plays a big role in both groups, though.

    Another feature of the Western culture that she doesn't take adequately into account are the strong anti-capitalist and anti-Christian components of the zeitgeist of the newspapers and the universities.

    One more effect clamors for attention. But first a little history... During the slave years in the US, some evangelical groups tried to convert slaves. In some states slave owners worried that Christian slaves would have to be treated like brothers and evangelism was banned(!?!), but eventually a compromise of sorts was worked out: preachers could preach provided they were willing to also preach that slavery was Biblical, just, and that slaves must obey their masters. This moral dilemma wound up splitting the Baptist church. Some accepted the compromise eagerly, believing that slavery was just; others reluctantly, believing that this was just a temporary setback and that the goal of evangelizing the slaves was worth it. In any case, after a generation or so, they believed it themselves. [The slaves didn't, as a rule... see Roll, Jordan, Roll].

    Now consider the case of mission churches in the MidEast. If they come out and say that a Jew is as good as anybody else, they'll lose their audience, buildings, and permission to stay (and maybe life as well). To be silent isn't always an option. So, either go along with the local bigotry as far as you can (and that is sometimes very far!), or give up and let everybody go to hell. A large number of the examples she cites from Catholic sources can be interpreted as choosing the first option.

  • "What causes the current anti-semitism in the MidEast and Europe?" This she attributes both to long-standing attitudes and to recent reinforcement of these by cross-fertilization between the Nazis and the Arabs. The history she cites of hatred of the "deicide" people in both Eastern and Western Christendom is hideous. The Muslim history has a few bright spots (cited above), but is not significantly better. Within this framework come the Western colonial powers who proceed to try to wangle better trade deals than each other, protect their own citizens against sharia, and support their co-religionists (dhimmis) against the Muslim oppression. The ulema make sure that this insult isn't overlooked, and so there are increasing outbursts of violence against the dhimmi communities. Some of these dhimmi groups (and some of the European powers) try to deflect anger from themselves to the group with no European protector: the Jews. Emigration to Israel starts to grow, despite the Ottoman policies to restrict it.

    European anti-semitism flourished, and produced fruit like the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." This spread to the MidEast. When the Nazis came to power, the Arabs looked to them as protector and inspiration (after all, the Nazis were the enemies of the colonial English and French, and of despicable liberal democracy, and of the Jews). In their turn the Nazis used Muslim recruits in the Balkans, and apparently excepted Muslims from the segregationist laws.

    The founding of Israel was a devastating insult to the Muslims. Spain was lost, and the Caucasian area, and the Ottomans broken, but those were all lost to the historical enemy--the Christians. This time the infidels were Jews, and they were in a holy place (though apparently only an important holy place if somebody else wanted it). Result, more hatred of the Jews, although with a mask of anti-Zionism.

    To combat the Jewish claim to the land some (probably Christian) Palestinians devised the fiction that Jews were never from Judea, and that the Arab Palestinians had always lived there. This requires rewriting the Bible somewhat, and in fact some Christian churches there have attempted to de-Judeaize the liturgy, removing references to Zion and Israel. Once again the dhimmi attitude serves to attack other (former) dhimmis.

    Growing Muslim populations in Europe bring along their own anti-semitic baggage (and a lot of the attacks on Jews in France and Germany are due to immigrant Muslims). The doctrine of cultural equality restricts other Europeans from coming out strongly against the voiced anti-semitism.

Yes, read the book.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The Distinguished Lecture Series brought a Leslie Feinberg here yesterday to speak on "Trans Liberation." The blurb says "Trans Liberation is the phrase that has come to refer to all those who blur or bridge the boundary of the sex or gender expression they were assigned at birth: cross-dressers, transsexuals, intersex people, Two Spirits, bearded females, masculine females and feminine males, drag kings and drag queens. Activist Leslie Feinberg argues passionately for the acceptance of all trans peoples--and for the absolute necessity of building coalitions between all progressive political groups."

I'm not sure where to begin. The notion that sex is assigned at birth, and that maybe you can appeal for a reversal, is stunningly ignorant.

  • Transsexuals need liberation from their own psychoses, not from society. Where is the liberation in turning your body into a doll shaped like something that every cell of your body says you aren't?
  • I'm not sure what "Two Spirits" are supposed to be--schizophrenia maybe? (More people in need of compassion and professional help)
  • And I was under the impression that drag queens were simply a flamboyant variety of cross-dresser. The whole point of cross-dressing is to fool people into thinking you are radically different from what you are. I can conceive of this as ranging from harmless to disturbed, but I have no numbers on what the spectrum is like.
  • Bearded females are very common--it happens to a large number of elderly women, and a small number of younger women with a mild hormone imbalance. Not a big deal--if you don't mind there's no problem, and if you do the problem is easily cured by Gilette.
  • Intersex is a very rare condition. I can agree that these people may need care and protection from the waves of psychologist who want to study them, but it hardly seems worthwhile trying to revise a whole society's mores and marriage customs to make five or six people with a birth defect more comfortable in locker rooms.
  • I can't tell exactly what is meant by masculine females and feminine males. Maybe this means relative to cultural norms, or perhaps relative to the biological norms (a gracile male, for instance). I strongly suspect (from other observations) that the two meanings are not distinguished.

So from their list of 9 categories of "oppressed" people I find 6 types: one with a rare birth defect, two mentally ill, one with no significant problems, one with maybe a big problem and maybe not, and one group that just represents the tails of some kind of normal distribution. I can see how the transsexuals might be extreme varieties of cross-dressers, but I don't think all cross-dressers are mild forms of transsexuals. Aside from that, what exactly is supposed to link all these categories? What is supposed to be the common cause uniting an 80-year old grandmother with five-o'clock shadow and a 20-year old guy chopping off his genitals and pumping silicone into his chest? It is dishonest to proclaim an Apple and Rivet Pie Society and hope that I'll not notice that only one is actually edible.

Yes, by all means accept the slender fellow and Mrs. Hulk. But the transsexual's problem is in his head, not in society.

No, I didn't go hear it speak. I had other things to do.

Sunday, January 26, 2003


What Would Jesus Do? This is pretty useful for deciding some kinds of questions, but I have a lot of trouble trying to answer "What Would Jesus Do" in deciding what level of tariff to put on imported oranges, or in deciding whether selling marijuana should be a crime and if so what the sentence should be. He didn't discuss those sorts of issues. Paul says that one of the functions of government is to "bear the sword" and punish criminals, but I don't find much guidance for how to do this, or what the rules for taxes and war and peace are. Maybe I don't have enough imagination, or the chutzpa to make it up and claim divine sanction.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Women and Gender in Islam by Leila Ahmed

I started this one. Maybe I had a touch of the flu. Maybe not. I couldn't get very far in the book. It is back at the library now.

Civil Islam by Robert Hefner

(2000) is a history of Indonesia after independence, with particular emphasis on Islamic political parties. Early Indonesian history is rather sketchy here (I haven't read his references), but the progress of Islam across Indonesia was associated with some violence, though whether more than usual I can't say. The large volume of trade (pre-Portugese) made the area much more diverse (and coastally cosmopolitan) than one might have expected.

Hefner's thesis is that democracy arises from a civil society with a civilized state, and that efforts to produce democratic structures were thwarted and corrupted by power-hungry dictators. The result of playing one group against another has been increasing violence and a breakdown in civil discourse which might otherwise Modern Indonesian history is rather grim. Thanks to occupations, there arose effectively a shadow government, which after indepence was centered in the armed forces. As they took control of various state economic enterprises, their power became quite extensive. Hefner does not address this power base as much as it deserves, largely because of the lack of information about it. Soekarno taking the reins early with a Javanist, Communist, and Muslim "coalition." When the Communists overreached themselves in 1965 they were exterminated, with half a million dead. Some Muslim groups afflicted by the Communists were closely associated with the campaign. Political Muslim groups had been suppressed, but parties developed anyway, some in conjunction with pro-democratic reformer and some more conservative. Some of these parties wanted the idealized Sharia-state, but others advocated a more plural society.

A large fraction of the Muslim population was syncretic in religion, mixing shamanist beliefs with the usual Islamic ones. Thus there was already a large constituency for a less-strict Islamic society. With the largest Muslim political parties suppressed, many Muslims turned their energy to more peitist concerns--in particular trying to convert the pagans and purify the religion of their nominal fellow-believers. Over time this increased the number of conservative sharia-seeking Muslims.

After Soeharto succeeded in deposing Soekarno, he maintained his power by playing one group against another, by co-opting some movements, and planting his relatives in positions of economic power. He and his clan stole incredible amounts of money. In the 80's he thought it advisable to shift support away from the Javanists and to Muslim groups, which began to rise to much greater prominance. The details of the power struggles don't make pleasant reading, and I'll spare you them. It began to become clear to several of the groups that they were being used for purely political ends, and had been back in 65 as well; and one of the larger parties took as one of its guiding principles that the union of the state and Islam ends by subverting Islam to the service of the state.

Unfortunately this epiphany was not shared by all the Muslim parties, and some of the familiar sharia-forever groups also became prominent. Hefner thinks military and Soeharto-affiliated groups' dirty tricks teams as the ones to blame for the radical escalation of violence that marked Soeharto's last years in power, and thinks that the continuation of that violence is due to the military factions and the legacy corrosion of civil society. Even today if someone comes close to trying to trace Soeharto's stolen money, people are bribed, violence flares somewhere, or something else happens to divert attention. \$15 billion can buy a lot of trouble-makers. He suggests that the East Timor violence was one such diversion. Even if so, the implication is that a significant fraction of the population and the armed forces are willing/eager and available for such hateful outbursts.

OK, my overview of his conclusions: We know the jihadists are there--we knew even before the Bali bombing. East Timor, Ambon, and many less widely publicized incidents told the world that. Hefner attributes some of this to the legacy of manipulation and violence by brutal rulers. Maybe. However, he shows that there exist Muslim parties with less than all-encompassing aims (and in a 90% Muslim country), some with a commitment to democracy. He tries to show that these developed from native civil institutions and customs, but actually doesn't give a lot of detail to support this (a shame, since I think he's right).

Reading about parties forming and dissolving and allying and backstabbing all in an environment where shaking hands with the ruler is a really big deal--makes me very tired. Enlightened, but tired. Yes, read the book.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Blue Signs

The original posting seems to have been swallowed.

Kinkos is one of a number of firms that use blue lights in their signs. I have trouble focusing on these, and an unrandom sample suggests other people do too.

I think the reason the signs are hard to read comes from the way our night vision works. The night vision is based more on the rods, and cones become hypersensitive when they've gotten little stimulation. Says here that about 2% of our cones are blue sensitive, so we have poorer resolution for purely blue light to start with.

Nevertheless the blue sensitivity is similar to the others, so the blue cones must be more sensitive (which shouldn't be hard to arrange, since the blue light is more energetic). But a single cone, once triggered, has to be less sensitive for a time to subsequent photons, and especially at night, when it starts out hypersensitive. So, for a short time after it registers the blue light, the blue cone will be somewhat deadened. I don't know how long the recovery time is, but I suspect that it has to be somewhat longer for blue than green or red cones. In any event, the recovery of night vision sensitivity is on the order of minutes.

The rods don't see red light, but blue light will fire them and destroy their dark-adaptation, so we lose rod sensitivity in the region around the focus of the blue image.

The eye constantly jitters, which means that the image of a bright blue point source at night will play over a small region around the nominal focus point--deadening the area slightly, and making the image less sharp than you would otherwise expect.

So the combination of sqrt(32)X worse spatial resolution and a deadened area around the central focus spot make blue images harder to resolve at night.

So why in the world do firms spell out words with blue fluorescents when people have trouble reading them?

Friday, January 17, 2003

Quiet place?

We become so used to the noise around us that it becomes hard to notice that it is there anymore. I ignore road noise, turn the radio up, and only realize how loud everything has been when I slow down and find the radio painful to hear. Don't ask me about the air handling system at work.

This everybody knows, and most of us like to take a break in a quiet place in the woods. The difference is amazing, and refreshing.

We have the technology to make quiet rooms in the city. It isn't the same as the woods: the woods have their own noises. Still, imagine sitting down in a room (in a health club, say), where the only sound is your own breath, and resting for an hour.

I'm not up to speed on how to build a quiet room, but I presume you'd need to nest two enclosures, which would probably at least triple the price. The air handling has to be done separately, or at least run through a very large muffler. And, of course, you need to spend a little of somebody's time to monitor usage, let patrons know when time's up, etc. If a home costs \$50/square foot, then guess \$200/square foot for this kind of room. Skip any economies of scale by combining rooms or making common rooms, and posit a 100 square foot room (which may be a bit big) giving us \$20,000 for the cost. Assume this is in an area close to downtown, so the hours of use are 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours around noon, and 5 hours in the evening on weekdays, and about 14 hours on weekends; giving about 91 (call it 90) hours of peak use time per week. Assume an occupancy rate of 1/3, for 30 hours per week or about 1500 hours per year.

The cost of monitoring the facility is some fraction of an employee's time (they have to also monitor handball courts, etc) plus cleanup time. If the club is open 20 hours per day, at 5% of the monitor's time that's an hour per day worth of monitor cost (say \$20 per hour including benefits) plus another 1/4 hour of janitor time, for costs of \$25/day.

I don't have a good handle on the relative return of different facilities in a health club, but let's guess that we want to pay for the employee time plus 3 times the installation cost each year. That gives us \$40/hour plus about \$2/hour averaged employee cost.

I've left some things out (furnishings and other amenities), but this gives us a ball-park lower figure. Are there enough people out there interested in paying \$45 for an hour of complete quiet in the middle of a busy day in the city?

I'm not sure I would, but then I don't have a lot of disposable income.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Voices of Resurgent Islam, edited by John L. Esposito, 1983. The book is divided into 3 sections. Since it reflects many different viewpoints, I can't summarize it with a single theme.

The first section is Understanding Islamic Identity. The first of the three articles is about American perception of Islam, and is rather out of date by now. The second points out that reformation movements are a recurrent theme in Islam, and claims a perpetual need for ijtihad for interpretation (as opposed to supplementing existing law). The third uses analysis of newspaper articles to establish what we all knew already: there's been a strong Islamist movement afoot.

The second section describes the lives and influences of 6 "Pioneers of the Islamic Resurgence:" Sayyid Qutb (the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue), Mawdudi (Pakistani who tried to theorize about an ideal Islamic state), Qaddafi, Khomeini, Muhammad Iqbal (spiritual father of Pakistan), and Ali Shariati (Iranian who tried to popularize Islam among Western-educated youth by using Western catagories and methods). Qutb is chilling in the extent of his claims and implacable hatred of non-Moslems. Obedience is crucial, there can be no improvement on the old system. Mawdudi devised a theory of an Islamic state, which claimed shura (mutual consultation) as one of its principles--making it look similar to democracy. But it isn't the same: No law is valid unless it is in accord with The Quran and sharia. But who decides this? And who decides who is a legitimate "Islamic party?" The author notes that Mawdudi never came up with good answers for these and other implementation details, and he was clearly a "maximum government" partisan.

Islam in Libya, as in many places in the world, is rather syncretic, with shrines for saints and other features. The ulama did not object to these popular modifications (I wonder: Isn't the ulema {the whole Muslim population} supposed to be infallible--so isn't whatever they want to do OK?). Qadaffi decided to clean this up by abolishing private property and getting back to basics, which he decided consisted only of the Quran (and not the traditions: the Sunna). I found the idea rather interesting; and I wonder what has been the subsequent history of this experiment. Needless to say, chucking the Sunna has a massive effect on sharia.

Khomeini seems to have been even more totalitarian and bloodthirsty than I had heard. I quote from the article:

Two sets of polar arguments about the relation between the ideals and actualization are often debated in Muslim scholarship:

  • 1a--Once each individual becomes truly Muslim, all need for social coercion and oppresssive state structures will whither away; versus
  • 1b--The Quran speaks of justice and iron (the sword) in Sura Hadid (Sura on Iron), ie, force may be required to establish the social conditions to foster the development of true Muslims and a true Muslim society.
  • 2a--Knowledge is accessible to all reasonable men, and so society can rely on consultation among men; versus
  • 2b--Divine knowledge is the privilege of the few (an imam or amir; a body of ulama) and so society must be ruled by a tutelate dictatorship/oligarchy.
Khomeini's writings have increasingly stressed the second of each pair.

Iran implemented a fully Islamic state, according to their best ideas; and made sure that the deliberative body was supervised in all things by a small clerical committee. The West had no part in shaping this, and whether it stands or falls is entirely its own doing. Many are still watching.

Muhammad Iqbal was a poet and philosopher. He claimed that sharia was dynamic, and called for reopening the gate of ijtihad [note the different usage above]. He emphasized the "international" nature of an Islamic state, but once again was very light on the details of how to implement his ideal state.

Shariati, with a Western education, was able to use Western sociological terms to describe Islamic topics in Iran. He championed a symbolic interpretation of religious language. His insistence that tawhid (unity) in God and in man meant that religious and social/political life were not separable made him rather unpopular with the Shah, and led to his early assassination. Both socialist and Islamic groups claimed him as their martyr, though he would probably have repudiated the former.

The third section is of Muslim Perspectives on a Resurgent Islam. Some of their indictments of the West are quite accurate, but their critiques of their own societies are not always accurate. Ahmad claims that "But the explosion of corruption which is so visible in the present day Muslim World is a new phenomenon." He blames this on secularism, without checking to see if his initial claim is correct (as far as I can tell, it isn't). But this is accurate: ".. I would like to invite my western colleagues to understand that Muslim criticism of Western civilization is not primarily an exercise in political confrontation. The real competition would be at the level of two cultures and civilizations, one based on Islamic values and the other on the values of materialism and nationalism. Had western culture been based on Christianity, on morality, on faith, the language and the modus operandi of the contact and conflict would have been different. But that is not the case.".

Al-Mahdi argues that Islam is dynamic, that the hadith must be governed by the Quran and not vice versa, and that even Umar modified a punishment mandated by the Quran (hand amputation for theft) during a famine or when the thieves had been cheated of their wages. He explains the closing of the door of ijtihad as a reaction to despotic rulers trying to manipulate ijtihad for their own purposes

al-Turabi summarizes the Islamic state, arguing that a consensus-based government is better than a multi-party state, that judges need to review laws, and so on. It may give some clue about his attention to detail to note the following (same paragraph): "Early Muslims were very keen to provide judges with a generous income to protect them against temptation and to allow them a very large degree of autonomy with broad powers to administer justice." followed by "Judges cannot listen to all the complaints and determine the issues. But such a difficulty was resolved in early Islam by the office of a counselor to the judge: an assistant who first heard the parties, ascertained the matters in issue, marshaled all the relevant evidence, and researched the law in preparation for a decision by the judge." OK, now which one is the real judge?

Iqbal attempts to argue that a democracy is not incompatible with an Islamic state, by arguing such points as that "The principle that a person who offers himself as a candidate for any office abuses his position of trust and therefore must be ignored cannot be made applicable universally."

al Faruqi attacks Zionism, with a breathtaking collection of lies about the treatment of religious minorities under Islam.

Ishaque attempts an Islamic Approach to Economic Development, which centers on the principles that all wealth must be earned in useful ways, and spent for general good (not hoarded). He proposes to replace banks, which charge and offer forbidden usury, with shared risk investment firms. Faruki also addresses this interesting point, mentioning the rather specious "guaranteed profit" investments which try to get around the prohibition. It isn't appropriate to charge rent for the use of money, but only for the use of other property... though I recall from a news article of about 20 years ago that somebody in Egypt was experimenting with banks paying "user fees" for the use of money.

I learned quite a bit from this book, not least of which was that some of sharia is based on flimsy hadiths which are under challenge in (some) Islamic regions. I'd only heard of 4 approved Sunni schools of thought; they mention 8. Closing the gate of ijtihad had political as well as religious components: fear of abuse and fear of the effects of proliferating schools of law. I need to find out what happened in Libya. Check it out.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Islam and Dhimmitude

I read The Dhimmi (Bat Ye'or) earlier, and am partway through Islam and Dhimmitude (also Bat Ye'or). She is not always easy to read, I'm afraid, and the latter book verges on the polemical from time to time. Her thesis is that the oppression inherent in dhimmitude tends to make dhimmis think of themselves as inferior, fear to challenge the oppressive state, support it for fear of worse oppression, and cheerfully try to encourage popular hatred of other dhimmi groups in the hopes of keeping the heat off themselves. I suspect she overstates the strength of these tendencies, but I have not closely observed people in such situations myself.

So, when I found Bernard Lewis' The Jews of Islam I dug into that to see what his take on the history was. He only briefly refers to Ye'or, which isn't too surprising given that the book is based on lectures from 1981. I'm curious what he thinks of her more recent work.

In any case, he asserts that Jews under Islam were generally treated better in the heartlands than in places like North Africa. Although laws about humiliating dhimmis were on the books in the early years of Islam, he doesn't see evidence that they were much enforced. I think he missed the reason, though. In the early years the Moslems were still a minority, and it isn't good policy to tick off large majorities too much.

In the Persian years there was famously a great deal of tolerance and opportunity. In the Ottoman heyday, especially after 1492, the Ottoman heartlands took in a great many Jews, and the government was generally glad to have the immigrants and their useful skills.

The rest of the time and in other places things were not always so good. Under the Umayyids rules restricting all dhimmis became more strictly codified (and stories invented to attribute this to the first Umar), and these restrictions then applied and relaxed periodically. When messianic movements appeared, all dhimmis were in trouble.

Lewis spends a long chapter on the Ottoman era (as he would be the first to admit, largely because it is the best-documented), when a Jew would get much better treatment in that Muslim country than in almost any place in Christian Europe. In that era and place Jews were fairly well off; but with the rise of the West the local Greeks became more influential, since they had contacts with the West which the immigrant Jews did not.

He raises interesting questions about mutual influences of Islam and Judaism. Jewish influences in religion were frowned on, of course; Jerusalem was not considered to be a especially holy city. Nevertheless, things like the Talmudic test for daylight (distinguish different colors of thread) were absorbed (without attribution) into Islam [or perhaps both borrowed from some lost source--he points out that we can't tell]. The position of rabbis and ulema are similar, and the categories for discussion of rabbinic law seem to owe something (including terminology) to those from Islam.

In Shi'ism Jews, regarded as ritually unclean (to the extent that sometimes Jews were banned from going outside in the rain lest rainwater polluted by their touch wash against Muslim feet), were treated much more harsly.

Lewis emphasizes that the current anti-semitism, and a good deal of the historic anti-semitic outbursts, largely has Christian rather than Muslim origins. The current official anti-semitism is a hybrid of east and central European work, Nazi propaganda, and the traditional contempt of Islam for Jews; salted with a heavy dose of "find somebody to blame." When the West turned back the Ottoman jihad at Vienna and in the growth of Russia; and as Western traders and governments became more influential, the impulse to find someone responsible for the decay and eventual calamity seized on the groups which had no foreign governments willing to stand up for them: the Jews. Bat Ye'or also spends a lot of ink illustrating the Christian contributions to anti-semitic doctrines in the Middle East. I suppose I need to bone up on that one of the days.

I haven't yet run across a book by Bernard Lewis I wouldn't recommend.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

With all the talk of Martian meteorites and 'deep thought' about the origin of life on Earth, I thought it perhaps useful to make a few comments myself.

The notion that we can explain the mysteries of life on Earth by saying it originated from spores or whatnot from space is so utterly foolish I'm at a loss for words. That just shifts the question to "Where'd the spores come from?" Yet I see references to this "explanation" in every other news article on exobiology.

On the other hand, why couldn't life from Earth seed other planets in our system? We're learning from extremophiles just how drastic the conditions can be and still find life, and from other work how far down in the rock you can find organisms thriving. So, given that the Earth has had a few impacts over the years, why couldn't some rock chunks land on Mars or Europa with some hardy opportunists aboard?

Unfortunately, it is uphill all the way. Though the Earth's escape velocity is only 11 km/sec, well within even small (100 m) meteorite impacts (Science V298 29-Nov-2002 p1752 Head et al) capabilities, you also have to take into account the potential difference between Mars and the Earth due to the Sun, and that's not small. When you take both potentials into account you need an escape velocity of 26 km/sec to get to Mars, and 40 km/sec to get to Europa. It is probably still doable, but I'd think it very rare.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Voices of Resurgent Islam

(1983) edited by John L. Esposito is very interesting. Consider the following selection, from the chapter by Yvonne Y. Haddad (pages 83-84):

Sayyid Qutb wrote a book on Islam and Peace in which he affirmed that peace is the essential character of Islam. It proceeds from the integration of creation with the law of life and the laws governing humans.


Islam insists that there is no compulsion in religion; however, the compulsion comes into being "against those who oppose its way by force." In this manner, Islam has placed a certain responsibility on Muslims. These include the following: 1) It is the duty of Muslims to protect the believers that they do not stray away from the religion, permitting the use of force to repel force. 2) Islam must be guaranteed freedom of propagation, otherwise it becomes incumbent on Muslims to "eradicate" any oppressive powers on the earth which impede the dawah of Islam. 3) Muslims must be able to affirm God's sovereignty on earth and remove those who usurp this sovereignty by legislating laws. 4) Muslims must be free to establish the great justice that all people may enjoy its benefits. "This means that Muslims must combat oppression and injustice wherever they are found, even though it is the oppression of the individual against himself, the oppression of a society against itself or the oppression of the government against its constituents"

On the other hand, the chapter on Qaddafi's Islam shows Qaddafi (in 1978) saying that the Quran is accurate, but the Sunna is not necessarily binding; pointing to historical disputes about the validity of the traditions.

And in the section on Muslim Perspectives on a Resurgent Islam, Kemal A. Faruki (p286) writes about Pakistan:

Similarly with adultery (zina), Ordinance VII prescribes stoning to death at a public place for the married man or married woman guilty of this offence. In this case a difference of opinion has persisted as to the permissibility of stoning which is not mentioned in the Quran but derives its authority from hadith literature references which are imputed by many. This has been the subject of a special examination by expert evidence before the sharia court.

I haven't finished this book yet, but so far I've found it fascinating. As it is on reserve at the library, I can only get it on weekends.

I complained earlier about musicians who arbitrarily change the timing and stress of songs to try to show emotion. Strong emotion will change the stress, and I don't really object to it. I meant the illogical changes: the pauses that make no sense; the crescendos inserted just to be different. Your rendition of a song will always be different from everybody else's, albeit in subtle ways. (or not so subtle--I don't always hit the correct notes) If you feel you have to make your version dramatically different from everyone else's, I submit that you don't have enough faith in your own music.

I think one reason we don't have enough faith in our own work has to do with what we think about the nature of creativity and genius. Someone (sorry, I've never had a good memory for names) expounded on the types of genius, claiming there was Beethoven genius and Bach genius. Beethoven broke new ground with new styles. Bach took old styles and took them to new heights. Both were truly creative, and both produced works of genius.

We all want to Beethoven-style geniuses, though; all pioneers, creating new genres. It seems more dramatic, even more noble, "to boldly go where no man has gone before." But it is hardly an indignity to become a master of some art, able to convey what you see in an idiom everyone understands. (In some of the arts, such as sculpture and painting, workers seem allergic to even trying to master old genres: everything has to be new and groundbreaking and therefore utterly obscure.

Because we want to be breaking new ground, we're often afraid to do something the way people have done it before; afraid of being "the same old thing." But a kiss is "the same old thing" too...

Saturday, January 04, 2003

I don't plan to publish personal stories or much family info here. First, I've been asked not to embarrass family members. Second, I'm afraid I'm not another Lileks.

I get enough spam as it is, so the email address is separate from my work address and main personal address. I do read the mail here. As I expected of an address exposed on a web site, it is dominated by spam.

Friday, January 03, 2003

Yet Another Book Review:

Jesus in the Qur'an by Edward Geoffrey Parrinder is an attempt to identify all the passages involving Jesus, Mary, and other Christian topics in the Koran, with a modest amount of analysis aimed at finding the similarities. I have no doubt this is a useful tool, but I find his exegesis to be rather strained from time to time. He says we have a greater emphasis on the humanity of Jesus than any century since the first, and I don't know enough to evaluate that claim; but to intimate that Christians are therefore closer to a Moslem position is rather a stretch.

He points up contradictory views of Jesus implied in the various passages, suggesting that (the one biggie that denies the crucifixion aside) references to the Koran can be used to offer non-threatening opportunities for a Moslem to learn who Jesus is.

Overall, it looks useful, but he sees bridges that aren't always there.