Premature Evaluation, pt 2 (Grace and Power)

What to do when you haven’t finished a book but find yourself with something to say about it?

Convention dictates that one should finish a book before reviewing it (although I have my doubts about any number of published reviews), but on the other hand, I’m not trying to sell a review of Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, by Sally Bedell Smith. So out with the convention, in with the thoughts.
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A different kind of clash.

While I’m still struggling to put my reaction to the cartoon row into appropriate writing, today’s Spiegel Online’s English edition features an interesting and important article about a different kind of culture clash. It’s a timely story about the fact that Islam the religion and Islam the cultural practice are often quite distinct. It’s a story about the slow and violent death of traditional hiearchies during modernisation, particularly if modernisation is perceived as imperialist. But above all, it’s a story about allegedly legalised crime against a young woman and her incredible courage to resist what would have been her traditional duty: suicide. Her faith, she states, gave her the strength to keep telling her story. As Uwe Buse writes on Spiegel Online

“Mukhtar Mai, the daughter of a Pakistani farmer, thought she was apologizing for the misdeeds of her brother. Instead, she was gang raped by men in her village. After the rape, Mai contemplated suicide. Today she is likened to Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Katja Gelinsky’s Peculiar America

The German newspaper whose web site is now marginally better organized has two reporters based in the United States for its main news section. One, Matthias Rueb, is said to be one of the paper’s heavy hitters. They post him where they want to have an impact, certainly within German debate, and if possible at a European level or in the host country. (The paper has several such correspondents.) This is not his story.
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The liberalism of fools?

I cannot recommend highly enough Ken Macleod’s post (found via Crooked Timber) on how the “socialism of fools” – Engels’ description of anti-semitism – was accompanied by a sort of “liberalism of fools”, to wit, the anti-Catholicism of the pre-WWII era. Macleod, acknowledging that anti-Catholicism is rather passé these days, wonders if hatred of something else, perhaps another sect, might fill the roll as a modern liberalism of fools.

And, on a not entirely separate topic, French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo (no website, not that kind of paper) is republishing the images, along with one on its cover of Mohammed crying “It’s hard to be loved by fools”. An effort by the Conseil français du culte musulman to stop publication through the French courts was rejected on a technicality.

Chirac, however, has demonstrated that he is not, contrary to widespread belief, the biggest fool in Europe. Unlike the Danish Prime Minister, he has “condemned all manifest provocations that are liable to dangerously arouse passions.” Alas, he has only retreated to the number two slot in European political idiocy. He also said, “Anything susceptible to harm the convictions of others, particularly religious convictions, should be avoided. Freedom of expression should be exercised with a sense of responsibility.” Right on count two, wrong on count one. Responsible freedom of expression means that when you go out to offend people, you can’t claim to be surprised when they are offended. But there is little point in free speech if it is forbidden from trying to change convictions.

And round and round this totally avoidable fiasco goes.
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The cartoon row: aiming for maximum shock value

Iran newspaper Hamshahri came up with an original plan to counter the release of Danish cartoons making fun of the prophet Muhammad and decided to hold a little cartoon contest to test the limits of free speech:

The daily paper Hamshahri said the contest was designed to test the boundaries of free speech — the reason given by many European newspapers for publishing the Prophet Mohammad cartoons.

Fair enough, you’d say? Well, not quite. The theme of the contest is the Holocaust, incidentally called an “incident”:

A serious question for Muslims … is this: “Does Western free speech allow working on issues like America and Israel’s crimes or an incident like the Holocaust or is this freedom of speech only good for insulting the holy values of divine religions?”‘ the paper said on Tuesday.

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Islam; internal discussion, pt 5

Alex, I agree. But to know what happened to the ideals when they became their respective opium can only serve as a reminder to be careful, and, that politics matters. In fact, my idea of “dealing with Islam” doesn’t necessarily include the CRS, but compulsory Europe-wide reading of the relevant articles on Wikipedia, for example. I mean, look at what’s going on, this is not about state-prescribed belief, or even opposition to it, it’s about campaign management.

I think on of the fundamental problems with today’s version of enlightenment is that it is actually quite unenlightened. It’s no longer a conclusion but just another start of a thought process. Today, I’d say that most Europeans are orthopraxically not-religious as many Muslims are, and many people in Alabama probably are (again).

We will need to socially reconnect with our own enlightenment roots if we are to convince anyone of their value. We probably need to focus on the 16th – 18th century ourselves for a bit.

Islam, internal discussion; pt 4

Maybe so. Most people arguing for this, though, aren’t the ones I’d want to take
sides with in a rerun of the 16th C. I doubt Freeborn John Lilburne would have
been lining up with Sarkozy, Berlusconi, Clarke, or Daniel Pipes.

When push comes to shove, I bet the Islamic Reformation boosters will be the
first to move up a hundred years and give those ungrateful savages a taste of
the Dialektik der Aufklaerung’s thick ugly side for not wanting to be civilised
by the CRS. The problem is that it’s not the Reformation they want, but
Enlightenment in the form Napoleon practiced it on Egypt in 1798. Something THEY
do to YOU.

State-prescribed belief: bad medicine, and one that European doctors have been
far too happy to prescribe in the last century. If the genuine heroes of the
Reformation fought for anything it was liberty of belief, the precondition of
the Enlightenment’s scientific achievements, but also the first thing the
various post-Enlightenment tyrannies destroyed in the name of their own version
of reason.

The problem with AFOE membership is that stuff like this gets used up on
internal emails…

Islam, internal discussion; pt 3


a) I love the term „snack thinker“. She may well be, but her narrative lends a credibility most people do not have. She’s paying a high price being who she is and as such is probably entitles to being over-the-top at times. And, of course, there’s the Dutch history of pillarisation, which radicalises this debate in my opinion.

b) I don’t think most of the people I mentioned in the email are non-Muslims. But even if, given that almost no secular religious research into Islam is being conducted in countries where it is the predominant or state religion, I don’t think dealing with Islam from this perspective is necessarily wrong. And, despite the fact that he was certainly read to often by the wrong people, Bernard Lewis does still make some important institutional points, in my understanding. If he had not, we would not see this kind of rage on the streets. All this is a complex, and mostly political, issue, much less religious. Still – even though life in the 16th century wasn’t exactly fun for a lot of people, it was the time when European societies were able to be taken to the streets and fields for principles handled solely by their principes in earlier times. If you don’t buy the argument made by some with respect to Germany, that it was “reformation” that later caused the spiritual inspection and took the political out of the public realm when collective action would have been needed to avert a political disaster, ie that reformation is, in some sense, opposed to true democratisation, then reformation is what is needed these days. It would mean the unquestioned individual and social acceptance of a modern version of “cuius regio, eius religio” , and make the Jihad of Dar al-Islam vs Dar-al-Harb a solely personal, and spiritual one, not a “geographical” or national fight. Of course, it looks once again like Europe will be this battlefield, which is even more reason to deal with Islam, and Islamic modernisation even if you’re not a Muslim.