Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Please Do Not Offer my God a Peanut

Well, they just keep poking at the poor Muslims.

Today the reports say that the Pope, that paragon of spirituality, decided to quote Byzantine Emperor Manuel II, saying "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The Pope used the quote in the context of a talk about Islam and violence.

The Vatican defended itself by saying that they had no intention of offending the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world by referring to the quote. Jesus must be spinning in his grave!

The Pope has forgotten the 9th commandment. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor" and wrapped in there is the idea that "THOU SHALL NOT LIE!" Didn't mean it, my ass.

That is about as good as the UN forgiving Israel today for bombing its UN compound in Lebanon killing 4 Blue Helmets. Israel says that they had bad maps, so, oops. And the UN says, "Ok". But we'll ignore the fact that the compounded contacted the Israeli's 4 times in a period of something like 2 hours to tell them that they were bombing too close. Again, bad maps, my ass.

These are the blatant lies that should not be allowed to stand. And people wonder why Muslims and Arabs get so angry?


Anonymous said...


Yes, I noticed that. And just where does the Roman Catholic Church (or the Greek Orthodox church of the 14th century for that matter) get off lecturing other religions about violence and coerced conversion?

Historically most institutionalized religions are all about the use of state (and quasi-state) violence to force conversions and enforce obedience to entirely worldly ecleastical authority. Islam is guilty along with all the others and more so than many actually. I'd offer an slightly modified Simpsons paraphrase for Religion's role in history (a broader and better topic for the Pope to reflect upon): "Give MY God all your peanuts - myself acting as His agent - or I'll cut your bloody head off!"

RE: the Israel UN thing. Has Hezbollah apologized for the numerous times their ordinance hit UN bases (see my comment regarding this incident in response the first posting about it)? Has the UN even fussed about it? Or was it rather assumed that Hezbollah means well. They both shot at the UN and probably sometimes on purpose and sometimes out of recklessness. That'll happen when you set up housekeeping between Israel and Hezbollah with a pair of binoculars and no permission to shoot back.


// posted by RBR

Anonymous said...

Has US West officially joined the club now? 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

Yeah! My references got picked up! I even got two of them in there! The topic too easily lent itself to the Simpsons.

I am wondering if the Pope is another one who believes he can hasten the rapture by instigating trouble in the MidYeah! My references got picked up! I even got two of them in there! The topic too easily lent itself to the Simpsons.

I am wondering if the Pope is another one who believes he can hasten the rapture by instigating trouble in the Middle East. So how long before a Vatican missions gets hit by a terrorist bomb? Maybe Vatican City itself? He was known to be very conservative and not terribly ecumenical.

I agree with RBR on the UN thing. However, the primary source of my distain is that it can be lied about so easily. I mean, if you are going to lie about having done it on accident, at least come up with something better than "bad maps". Besides, as a member of the UN, Israeli should be held to a higher standard. It seems odd to destroy a UN compound and then make peace conditional on the presence of UN forces.

Same thing with the Pope. Who does he think he is fooling? It is about the lies, coming from everywhere, and no one calls these people on it. It is insulting to my intelligence.
dle East. So how long before a Vatican missions gets hit by a terrorist bomb? Maybe Vatican City itself? He was known to be very concervative and not terriblly ecumenical.

I agree with RBR on the UN thing. However, the primary source of my distain is that it can be lied about so easily. I mean, if you are going to lie about having done it on accident, at least come up with something better than "bad maps".

Same thing with the Pope. Who does he think he is fooling? It is about the lies, coming from everywhere, and no one calls these people on it. It is insulting to my intelligence. 

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

Oh, the "Jesus must be spinning in his grave"  quote. Nicely done; I didn't even catch it on the first read. 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

Man, I just noticed how my last post got garbled. Weird. Sorry about that.

// posted by USWest

Dr. Strangelove said...

As a counterpoint, an interesting article in Melbourne's The Age argues that the Pope's remark was misunderstood.
According to the article, his academic lecture was titled, "Three Stages in the Program of De-Hellenization," and his argument was that God is fully compatible with rationality and Greek philosophy. The Pope quoted the Emperor's views on Islam not because he agreed with it (though he may have) but because the argument was based on an appeal to rationality: using the sword to spread the faith could not be from holy because it was irrational.

The editorial ends with the lament that the Pope's call for a dialogue between all faiths and reason was lost because Muslims will only allow people to discuss Islam on their terms--which the editorial notes really is not much of a dialogue. I suppose what I am wondering is this: if the speech had been delivered not by the Pope but (say) a Danish cartoonist... would we have been so quick to declaim it? Or might we have focused instead on what was surely YET ANOTHER overreaction from the Islamic world?

Anonymous said...

Ah ha! I see. Thanks for sending out that editorial. It makes some interesting points, and clarifies some things.

The one point that jumped out at me was the idea that the Islamic notion of God is so transcendental that "He cannot be seen in terms of human reason." This is quite true. From what has been explained to me, Islam has been very much set up from the start to be discussed only on the terms of its believers because of the transcendental nature of their God. You cannot dare to assume that you can divine the will of God. God is so far removed from the human experience that it would be a sin to even think you can divine it.
Christians have the opposite approach. You cannot be sure of God's will, but the game is to use reason to divine it so as to take the right action. In our traditions, gods and goddesses were always connected to humans. Not so in the Arab experience.

In the modern Western mindset, we have a hard time with the idea that I am so spiritually bound that even my reason cannot be considered when I take the action. Any fundamentalist group, be it Christian , Muslim, or Buddhist gets caught in a similar problem of spiritual "obligation" trumping reason. It is a form of craziness, actually.

Much of the internal dialogue about Islam in the Muslim world seems to me to be less focused on a critique of Islam and more on whose brand of it is correct. There is little room for critique of Islam in general in the Muslim world. Very few dare.

There is the deeply embedded idea in Islam that you can say whatever you want about Islam but you must be inside Islam to say it. Well, that sort makes things difficult, doesn't it? The result is that Muslims sort of lock themselves into vicious logic circles. For instance, let's take the idea of Jihad.

If your way of life or faith has been attacked, you have this spiritual obligation to fight back, to wage jihad, regardless of reason. But it is never made clear what constitutes an "attack". So everyone can make it up on his own terms and decide for himself. But mixed in with this is the idea that an attack on one is an attack on all. So if you don't attack, and someone else thinks you should have, well, then they attack because now they have been attacked. And so it goes, around and around. In general, there isn't a one-two-three step to the thinking processes. The Socratic method does not exist in the Arab world.

My Arab friends who are either Christian or who are Muslims educated in Western institutions tell me that analytical thinking does not really exist in the Arab world because so much is based on wrote memory. They tend to blame this on the nature of dictatorship. But they will acknowledge that Islam has been corrupted and exploited by these dictatorships. My one Muslim friend has noted, with some sadness, that perhaps Islam is the problem because the Christians in the Arab world don't seem to have the same hang- ups or problems.

I am not sure it was JUST the Muslim world that over-reacted, if indeed there was an over-reaction. I have yet to see any editorial but for this one that didn't declaim the use of the quote. And even this editorial points out that it was easily removed from the context. The Pope may have just learned an important lesson about the power of sound bites.

// posted by USWest

Dr. Strangelove said...

Update: the Pope has now spoken what is being billed as a personal apology. In the usual non-apology that passes for one in that it includes the word "sorry", Pope Benedict says he is, "deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages in [his] address..." But then he does go on to explain clearly that the offensive excerpts were, "a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought. I hope this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with mutual respect."

Good enough, I say.

Dr. Strangelove said...

In The Age there is another excellent opinion piece by Waleed Aly, a member of the Victorian Muslim council here in Melbourne. He addresses some of the very interesting issues USWest raised in her last comment. He also has a dry sense of humor. Witness his opening paragraph:

"Let me get this straight. Pope Benedict XVI quotes the 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus... Some Muslims clearly interpret Benedict to be quoting Manuel with approval, and take offence at the suggestion that Islam is inherently violent. The response is to bomb five churches in the West Bank, and attack the door of another in Basra. In India, angry mobs burn effigies of Pope Benedict. In Somalia, Sheikh Abu Bakr Hassan Malin urges Muslims to "hunt down" the Pope and kill him, while an armed Iraqi group threatens to carry out attacks against Rome and the Vatican. There. That'll show them for calling us violent."

His closing sentiment addresses some of what USWest mentioned. He writes:

"Manuel had a shoddy grasp of Islamic theology. Indeed, the Islamic tradition would have much to contribute to the theme of Benedict's lecture. While medieval Christendom fought science stridently, the relationship between faith and reason in traditional Islam was highly convivial."

Of course, when USWest wrote that analytic thought and the Socratic Method "do not really exist" in the Islamic world, her unvarnished words were (as I am sure she would agree) crude generalizations designed to make a point and put a splinter under the skin. To me, what underlies USWest's main point is that the Muslim world did not endure the Enlightenment as we did in the West... religion was not (largely) dethroned in favor of reason; evidence did not supplant authority as the highest arbiter of truth.

The Sufi master Mansur Al-Hallaj (shortly before he was crucified and tortured to death for--among other things--calling for reforms to Islam) wrote of god that, "Other than He cannot be qualified by two opposite qualities at one time; yet With Him they do not create opposition." Simply put, God is beyond the constraints of ordinary reason and logic. This goes somewhat to USWest's point.

US West said...

My mention of the lack of analytical thinking and Socratic method in the Arab world was a commentary on the modern Arab world and not really of Islam itself. And it wasn't meant to refer to the traditional Arab world. I was trying to be very careful about using the terms Arab and Islamic. But I didn't succeed. So let me try to be more clear about what I meant.

In the first part of my last post, I was talking strictly about Islam. In the second part, I was talking about the Arab world.

There is a difference between the Arab world and the Islamic world, the modern and the traditional. It is easy for overlook that. Not all Arabs are Muslim and not all Muslims are Arabs. However, Islam dominates the Arab world and thus effects all parts of the Arab culture. The thinking process and all is affected by Islam. The Phrophet was designing, or attempting to design, an entire social system so that he could reorganize and civilize what were then nomadic tribes. Thus, in the influence was inevitable.

I struggle with the place of God in the Islamic world, just as I struggle with it when I read about pre-WWI Europe. The divine right of kings and all that is very foreign to my thinking, And let's consider that 2-3 centuries after the Enlightenment, we were still dealing with the issue of God and the state.

Also, my comment about analytical thinking was meant to address the actual way Arabs think. It would be wrong to say they don't have analytical thinking skills. They have them, they just don't teach them as we do. We in the Wes think in terms of the 5 paragraph essay. It is very linear and seeks to minimize comlexity. The Arabs do not think in a linear fashion. They tend to think in every widening circles, enjoying the complexity and beautiy of the argument. So when you read Arabic translated, you see a lot of redundancy. But in each repetition, they add something new. That isn't to say that every argument is logically correct. And that is where the problem lies. I have seen arguments so intricate in their "reasoning" that they loose all sense or conneciton to reality.

Now, in the educational system, there isn't any movement toward teaching analytical thinking skills. It is based on wrote memorization. This is not my opinion, but what my Arab friends tell me. I cannot speak to that, never having experienced education in the Arab world. You memorize the Koran and appreciate its beauty. You don't question it. You may learn analytical thinking skills elswhere, and there are many brillant minds in the Arab world with incredible analytical skills. So yes, I was crudely generalizing.

I think Dr. S is correct that it has to do with not having been through the Enlightenment. One Iraqi Christan told me point blank that the Islamic world was still stuck in the 15th Century, and even that was being generous in his mind.

I liked the editorial. Again, thanks for linking us to it!

Anonymous said...

Arabs are not inherently "greedy, barbarous and cruel." And to the extent that such people are common in the Middle East, it is not Islam or Arab culture that makes them so. It is poverty and a lack of diverse economy and lack of opportunity. Islam merely provides the vocabulary, much like nationalism does in other parts of the world or in other times in the Middle East.

The good news is that poverty and lack of opporunity are slightly less intractible problems than people assume religious/cultural differences to be. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Dr. Strangelove said...

RbR may discount too much the influence of Islam as a driver of behavior rather than just a provider of vocabulary. I have had long arguments on a similar issue, regarding whether Christianity has been a source of homophobia or just provided justification.

I think it is somewhat disingenuous to separate the peculiar culture and beliefs of the small clique of clerics who preach their religion from the religion itself, for the interpretation they give is as important as the underlying text. Just look at the split in the Anglican church over homosexuality... the Christianity preached by the liberal American Episcopalians differs markedly from that taught by the conservative Anglican pastors in Nigeria, though their texts are identical.

I heard a Muslim scholar on PBS yesterday argue that the Pope had badly misunderstood Islam. The scholar said that, for example, "jihad" did not mean "holy war" and that Islam gave no justification for violence. And I felt like saying: I wish that were so, but such a liberal Western interpretation of Islam is not the same Islam taught by the Wahhabis in Saudia Arabia. That sect of Islam most certainly teaches that violence against infidels is a holy mandate.

Of course, the prevailing culture can in turn affect that of the clerics, who in turn affect the prevailing culture... there can be feedback. Witness the Protestant reformation. But when I said there was a "peculiar culture" among the small clique of clerics of each particular faith, I mean it: it should be considered as a thing apart, influencing and influenced by the masses they exhort. There would be no anti-abortion movement in the U.S. if right-wing ministers had not decided to make one. True, there was an underlying misogyny they tapped into, but the right-wing ministers transformed it into something else.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Dr. S on this one. I think he does a good job discussing the negative feedback loops that get started in these societies. Can't say that I can add much to that. RBR tends give more weight to socio-economic and socio-political factors in his analysis because RBR is a man of reason and not a big fan of religion. I respect that, but I also think that it is a mistake to assume that if you fix the economic problems that suddenly terrorism goes away and Saudi Arabia will leave Whabbism aside and start letting women drive. In fact, this is the very idea that is opposed in the region and that gets us into trouble, something I have tried to explain time and again. Pan-Arabism was replaced with Pan-Islam. But those you yell the loudest will get the most attention, and this is the case with fundamentalism Islamists. It is unfortunate for everyone.

All Arabs want diverse economies and more democracy, but Muslims, who dominate the region, want it along side of Islam. As I have said before, they make the argument that Islam, properly interpreted, contains democratic principles that coincide with the cultural attitudes and values of the region. And when we go in using our reasonable arguments about how they need to diversify their economies and democratize, we are met with head nods, because they have heard it all before and don't fundamentally disagree. But they have a different take on things. They see us a decadent, having lost the concept of faith and its place in society. I am not saying I agree with them, but I can understand why, sitting in their place, they would hold this view.

RBR is correct that poverty plays a role in the anger generated in the region. When your belly isn't full and your university degree doesn't get you a job, of course you have large numbers of people who are very susceptible to what the manipulative clerics tell them. History has taught us this time and again.

Make take however, is even if all the terrorism were to melt away tomorrow, Islam is still an important source of social justice for 1.6 billion people in the world, and shouldn't be discounted.

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

Why is it a mistake to think that if we fix the socio-economic problems the apparently religious problems will ease off? Is it a coincidence that the Catholic Church doesn't hunt witches anymore? Or that there are no more religious wars in Central Europe between Protestant and Catholic? Is it a coincidence that these things passed away as the economy developed? Is it a coincidence that such social ills pass away last in the rural and remote parts of our own societies?

Can we think of a counter example? That is can we name a society with a developed economy and wide spread economic opportunities in which we find wide spread religious fundamentalism and violent xenophobia of the type observed so widely in the Middle East?

My main objections to using religion and culture as explanatory variables are not motivated by my own personal feelings about the super natural. Rather they are based on my assesment that saying "it's their belief system" that actually causes the widespread violence and xenophobia we observe is of little practical value. It provides no insight into how the problem can be solved. Indeed, such an approach strongly implies that the problem cannot be solved.

Further, it borders on racism to assert that certain cultures are more disposed to nasty behaviors than others.

The Pope was wrong to even imply that Islam should be singled out in this regard. It is important for us in the West to realize that if we allow our own leaders to distort our economies and societies the way the Arabs' leaders have done, we could easily find ourselves in a similar situation. Christian, Jew or Muslim it simply doesn't matter.  

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Dr. Strangelove said...

RbR asks, "Can we name a society with a developed economy and wide spread economic opportunities in which we find widespread religious fundamentalism and violent xenophobia?"

RbR won't like it, but I will give my answer anyhow: "Sure, the United States." It is unfortunately false to claim such "backward" attitudes are confined to impoverished rural areas. They are pervasive in the vast tracts of suburbia in the Bible Belt too, and in many other places: Orange County, for example, is an enclave of especially well-to-do fundamentalist xenophobes. Though it is less violent here, there are nevertheless fundamentalists who bomb abortion clinics, and far too many of the faithful privately approve.

RbR says, "there are no more religious wars in Central Europe between Catholics and Protestants," which is accurate but a tad misleading. One need only look slightly farther afield at Northern Ireland to find Christians killing Christians. (Fortunately, it looks like that saga may be closing.)

RbR says that he avoids religious-based analysis because, "it provides no insight into how the problem can be solved." I strongly disagree. It suggests instead that a program to reform and moderate Islam from within might actually work, whereas approaching it as a secular issue will not. (I believe USWest alluded to this in the first paragraph of her most recent comment, but I may be misreading her.)

Lastly, RbR says it "borders on racism" to single out one culture and that it was wrong to single out religion.

One the one hand, when the Pope dares to criticize another religion for sanctioning violence, I want to reply, "first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." Catholicism in particular has had a poor record, even theologically, on this point.

But on the other hand, I think RbR's earlier point about the modern relative peacefulness of most Christian cultures (but as I said, certainly not all!) is relevant here. Islam is different. It has not been, well, quite so domesticated as Christianity has been (if you will overlook the somewhat insulting metaphor). As I wrote earlier, the Enlightenment removed religious authority from the apex of Western civilization (and as USWest indicates, this is precisely one of the things about the West that Muslims find fault with!)

RbR is right in that the leadership of the Arab nations has much to answer for. But so does Islam. RbR is right that Christianity and Judaism also once were as prone to jihad (excuse me, "crusade") as Islam. Such attitudes were dangerous in medieval times, but with modern weaponry, they are now a threat to civilization itself. Islam needs to be reformed as other religions have done, and this must come from within (though perhaps nurtured from without.)

As William Carlos Williams wrote in The Desert Music, "Man has survived hitherto because he was too ignorant to know how to realize his wishes. Now that he can realize them, he must either change them or perish."

Anonymous said...

I must say I saw that coming and thought about anticipating it in my earlier comment. But, I'm not going to concede the US case to Dr. Strangelove. Orange County doesn't spawn suicide bombers. The Orange County GOP - even at their most Bush loving - is hardly comparable to Hamas or Hezbollah. Not even the "Minute Men" are as dangerous or violent. But we could go down that road if our leaders continue to concentrate wealth at the top of the income distribution and restrict economic opportunities for average people.

Northern Ireland's "Troubles" coincided with a sharp economic decline in the 1970s plus or minue a couple of years. And it's not a coincidence that it started over access to jobs not percieved religious slights.

OK, so we try to boost the moderates in the Islamic world. Fine. But what is the medium/long term plan for getting moderates more influence than the reactionaries? Can they just hold a series of debates and one sunny day the reactionaries will say, "Well gee! I never looked at it that way!" and go home? Not likely. There must be some underlying, fundamental shift in the social conditions that underpin these things.

What was it about the "Englightenment" that changed Christendom? Was it the most massively successful rhetorical debate in human history? Or was it that the "Enlightenment" coincided with a series of economic revolutions that dramatically changed the social conditions in much of Europe? These economic changes were especially profound in Northern and Western Europe (Britain, France, Germany etc) where most the Enlightenment philosophers came from. 

// posted by RBR

Dr. Strangelove said...

Why don't fundamentalists in the West spawn suicide bombers, when fundamentalists in the Middle East do? Why don't abortion clinic bombers and Irish paramilitary groups use the same tactics as Hizbollah and Hamas? Why doesn't religious-inspired violence in the West rise to the same level as in the Middle East? How much of the difference in violence derives from differences in the economy, and how much from differences in religion?

I suppose the basic reason I think religious differences must be the critical factor is that the economic differences just aren't as large or as clear-cut. I mean, it's fair enough to say, "We're Christian and they're Muslim," but it's not as fair to say, "We're rich and they're poor."

Oh sure, on average the West is better off than the Middle East. But the economies in the Western world and the Middle East, when considered across place and time, have a lot of variance. There are parts of the US that make Lebanon look rich, and areas of the Arabian peninsula that make Kentucky look poor. You can find lots of case studies.

Yes, RbR is right that economics certainly plays a big role! If you want to find violent American fundamenalists, look for them in rural poverty or urban squallor. Likewise, Hizbollah and Hamas recruit their suicide bombers from the desperate and destitute. I do not doubt that assisting the poor everywhere would make it harder for the fundamentalists to find a willing audience. But Osama bin Laden was not a poor man, and many of Al-Qaeda's leaders--and many of the nineteen perpetrators of 9/11--came from privileged backgrounds.

Support for religious violence comes as much from the "Arab classroom" as the "Arab street." Economics may prepare the tinder box, but it is religion that ignites the flame.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that empoverished, Christian Latin America doesn't produce bombers either.

Then again, either does empoverished but Muslim Asia.


// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

Actually impoverished Muslim Asia does produce these kinds of groups. Look at the bombings in Bali.

There have been terror groups in Latin America that were very violent. We have leftist and secular groups like the Shining Path and we have rightist, Catholic groups like the "Death Squads" in El Salvador who reserved some of their most heinous atrocities for Catholics who they thought were too progressive (liberation theology priests and nuns).

But Latin American income distrubutions are improving and in some countries they are improving to the point where obvious differences exist between say, Yemen and Argentina or Chile or Brazil or Mexico. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

Here's the bottom line from my point of view. Economics may not have a 1 to 1 linear relationship here. But poverty is almost certainly a neccessary condition for this sort of violence. Belief in any one particular religion is neither a neccessary nor a sufficient condition for what we see in the Middle East.

If we are to focus on the root of the problem it is poverty. If we instead focus on trying to convince Hamas through rhetoric and "dialogue" we're doomed to failure.  

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

I think my real concern is international terrorism. No one disputes that economics is at the root of the issue. We don't have a real fundamental disagreement. Where we disagree is that religion is also at the root of some of this. It's sort of a chicken and egg argument. Some say that if you build some common understanding of social justice, then you can begin to build economic mechanisms that would fit the ideals. Others claim that first you address the economic issues, and then the ideals will flow. I tend to be of mind that you have to have common goals before you have the policies because the goals are what speak to the hearts of people.

I am currently reading a rather interesting interview with Senator John Danforth, Republican from Missouri who is also an ordained and practicing Episcopalian priest, former US Ambassador to the UN and Special Envoy to the Sudan peace negotiations. While in the UN, the Senator proposed that a mediation service for the religious aspects of disputes be created either inside or outside the UN. His idea was to create a high level standing body together that could come to some kind of agreement on certain principles, such as how Christians who are living under Sharia law should be treated, or how non-combatants should be dealt with. His point was that this might be able to give a boost to moderates within all faiths. He envisioned a committee made up of a papal representative, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Sheik of AL-Azhar, the Dali Lama, etc. Colin Powell agreed to a let him explore this type of set up. But, he said, it died on arrival.

I wonder how such a thing would work, if it would work. But then again, why not give it a try? Our faiths and belief systems are intermingled in ways that are unprecedented. There are no longer geographical barriers to separate us. And with more exposure comes greater opportunities for conflict as well as harmony. The flip side of mutual dependence, once said to be the way to generate world peace, is increase potential for conflict. As Danforth points out, "People are killing each other in the name of God, and therefore religious people have an obligation to do something about it."

// posted by USWest