If it is it doesn't matter

Monday, February 27, 2006

MPwI 3.2 Infectious literalism

Finally I get to the point of this section -- though if you have read the earlier posts, you know I'll be doing some dancing around it as well.

What is the problem with fundamentalism, both in general and in the specific Muslim variant? The answer is the effect not just on a person's religious views -- as I've said, I support the right to be wrong -- but on the overall way he views the world. For me, one of the most important mental skills a person needs to develop is 'critical thinking,' the ability to weigh a statement against the evidence, against facts and the 'real world,' the ability to accept that people, even religious leaders, political leaders, teachers, and parents can be wrong. (Even to take the first step of understanding that religious leaders, politicians, teachers, and parents are people first, and not labels, is useful.)

Now I am not saying that we should automatically reject what such people tell us, any more than that we should automatically accept it. The person who says "Politicians are all liars' is just as stupid as the one who says "Our President tells us... and Presidents wouldn't lie." Both are using labels rather than looking at people, they are just using different ones. A skeptic, at least in the sense I use it, is not just a 'doubter' or all the alternate medicine cranks and holocaust deniers would qualify. He's someone who insists on checking statements against facts.

And that skill is the one thing any fundamentalist finds difficult to develop. Difficult and dangerous. Because if you have the skill, there's always that temptation to use it on your religion, on your religious leaders, on your 'sacred-text.'

And no fundamentalist viewpoint can stand up to that. (The other parts of the spectrum can. The 'conservative' and 'liberal' views -- I defined them in Part 3.1 for newcomers -- can accept the allegories, the simple errors and contradictions, the fact that the writer was a 'product of his time,' and says things that fitted then but we've grown out of -- like Paul's defense of slavery and the prohibition against wearing clothes made from two different types of cloth, even (easier for liberals than conservatives) the sexism, homophobia, and myths, creationist, floods, etc.)

But a fundamentalist can't use critical thinking on his sacred text without his world-view being shaken. If the works are 'God's Word,' how can they have errors?

It's a difficult and dangerous balancing act at best. Maybe some can train themselves to think critically about some things and build a 'Chinese Wall' sealing off religion. Some can see the problems, can raise the objections, and then be told by their religious leader to just 'have faith,' and they'll get through their period of doubt. (A friend of mine from the old forum, a person who I called 'the best advertisment for Islam I had known,' told me he'd gone through that stage and survived with his faith intact.) And some simply accept the problems and say, in the Catholic phraseology, "Credo quia incredibile." (I believe because it is incredible.)

But those, I would expect, are the exceptions. Most literalists simply make sure they never pick up the skill. For them, the 'voice of authority' is enough. If a person with the right label, or the right costume, or the right oratory tells them something, they'll believe it, especially if the person plays to the right prejudices.

And there's a joker in the deck there. The one way NOT to convince this sort of person, frequently, is to parade evidence before him, to demonstrate the way critical thinking supports your position or criticizes his. Again, if he accepts the benefits of critical thinking, he's in the danger I discussed above.

(This may be why so many non-critical thinkers will accept the wildest crackpottery or medical quackery on mere say-so, but will dismiss anything a scientific investigator or someone who actually knows something about medicine has to say.)

What i've written here would fit a fundamentalist Christian perfectly well -- or even a fundamentalist, uncritical atheist and there are such.

But Islam's particular type of fundamentalism/literalism has extra aspects, and it is one of the reason why I worry that Islam cannot change, why I do fear the rush to a serious, dangerous clash.

But that will go into the next post -- and why do I think this doesn't surprise you?

And furthermore...

Three quick things, on various topics.

1: I am not just worried about the possibility of a conflict between Islam and the West. I may be even more worried about intra-Islamic conflict between any combination of Sunnis, Shiites, Selafis, or a conflict between an Islamicized country and a country which is making strides towards reform.

2: I have requested a number of people to comment on my arguments. with the length of my posts, comments could easily get buried -- even my fingers get tired paging down to check. So if anyone wants their comments in the form of posts, just e-mail them to me and I'll copy and post them. (For all I know there's an easier way of doing this, and, maybe someday I'll figure it out. I'm even going to get a blogroll up soon, I hope.)

3: Sprout, my orange bed-cat, has been complaining that I posted Poo's bio, and then stopped when he was next in line. Can't get my favorite lion mad at me, so after I post another post in the topic, I'll take a break from trivialities like world politics and deal with the important thing in life, cats, or at least one cat.

Interlude -- why this series

I consider myself a tolerant person. How many other ex-Catholic athiests are not extremely anti-Catholic? I consider Catholicism wrong about a lot of things, but, except in the area of sex/gender/reproduction, I think it has done as much good as harm, and I am still glad and proud that I went to a Jesuit High School. And, because I insist on the 'right to be wrong' -- I need it myself often enough -- I even accept tax exemptions for religious salaries, income, expenses and real estate for specifically religious purposes -- though I would not extend it to businesses or real estate owned by churches but not used for narrowly-defined church-related purposes.

And I have always been skeptical of gloom-and-doom culture clash scenarios. I grew up in the 50s, during the height of the Cold War, when many people were sure there would be an atomic clash between Communism and the West. I saw that, in every case where there had been a Communist revolutio in a country, it was against the advice of the USSR who cautioned that it wasn't time. And then I realized that, since Lenin, there hadn't been a Soviet ruler who actually believed in Marxism no matter how much lip service they paid it.

During the Nixon phase of the Vietnam War, when so many people were expecting either a 'revolution' or an extreme repression, I kept my faith in Democracy and expected things to settle down without the clash.

But this time I AM scared. I do not see a settlement of THIS cultural clash. Yes, there are moderate Muslims, a lot of them in the blogosphere. (And anybody who reads blogs from the young Iraqis like Baghdad Girl, Coloured Bubbles, and A Star from Mosul will see there is plenty of hope in the next generation, if it gets that far.)

But this is the blogosphere, and much as I'd like to, I can't live there. In the outside world, I don't see any effective movement by the truly secular or Reformist Muslims that has even begun to have any political power. What I see are, for the most part, semi-secular regimes who need to pay deep obesiance to the religious elements to maintain power, being pushed on one side by the Islamicizers, and not being pushed at all by the secular/Reformist elements.

I want to believe I'm wrong, that the clash of world-views is resolvable, that there is an effective Reform Islam in the works -- 'moderate Muslims' are NOT the same thing. They share the same world view, only the interpret it differently -- or that I am misinterpreting Islam and its beliefs. That's why I've asked and will be asking a number of bloggers to 'come and argue with me,' both Muslims and skeptics (particularly the sort who understand 'critical thinking').

And that's why I am laying out, at lengths interminably long even for me, what problems I see.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

MPwI 3.1 The Qur'an and L/F

I was able to get back to this sooner than I expected, though this still may not be complete until tomorrow -- I'll publish a preliminary piece of it if I don't complete this section.

For someone who is just discovering this blog, this is a continuation of my previous post, and it probably would be a good idea to wade through that first, at least the final section on the 'spectrum' of attitudes towards the 'sacred text' as shown in Judaism and Christianity. (Hey, I warned people I was long-winded.)

Anyway, once I started investigating Islam and the Qur'an, I found significant difference from the other religions, some of which I think may go a long way towards explaining the conflicts between "Islam" and "The West."

First, the Testaments are 'anthologies,' collections of books by many different writers. Even the most conservative of Christians have no problem in accepting that there are at least 8 writers in the New Testament. Most scholars would put the number considerably higher. And the Old Testament is a melange of different books, mostly uncredited. (Orthodox Jews hold that the Torah, the first five books were by Moses, but few other Jews and few scholars would accept this. It is generally conceded, except by the Orthodox that they are the weaving together of the works of at least four different writers.) As for the other books, they simply aren't credited, for the most part, and seem to be by many different writers.

The Qur'an claims to be, and obviously is, by one writer. Most Muslims would state this author was Allah, through the medium of Gabriel, dictating the work to Mohammed. (In section four of this I will argue, I believe conclusively, that this cannot be so. However, I have no problem in believing that Mohammed believed in his visions and thought he was receiving Divine Dictation. Perhaps not completely, there seems to be some evidence that some of the work was deliberately shaped by him to meet the changing circumstances, but even then I would have no problem accepting that he believed he was led by Allah to do so.)

The Testaments are filed with stories, people, characters. There is very little of this in the Qur'an. A few stories are referenced from the Testaments, but without the details of the original -- and occasionally with the details changed. (I still have no idea where the she-camel story comes from, the one possibly original story in it.) And the stories are not told AS stories, or AS parables. They are rather used as parts of sermons. Because that is what the Qur'an is, a collection of sermons.

These last two sections have a certain importance i will discuss later. But what makes Islam so different are the claims it makes, and the Spectrum of Belief (If you didn't get through my last post, I'll explain this briefly when i get to it.)

Even to someone who has been exposed to the most extreme Fundamentalist Christianity the level of claim made for the Qur'an is staggering.

First is that the book was in fact dictated by Allah in its entirety. Mohammed was merely a 'messenger of Allah,' who in no way composed the book. (There is a problem with this on its face because of the method of compilation, but we;ll get to this in a later section.) Thus what is there cannot be changed, cannot be reconsidered in the light of changing circumstances. (This is not just an article of faith, it is a logical necessity, since if Allah wrote this, since he knew the future, he would have anticipated any changing circumstances and made allowances for them.)

Also following from this is that it is true from beginning to end. (A Diety cannot lie, because if he were capable of lying how could you trust anything that he said? The legal axiom "false in ine, false in all" applies even more strongly here.)

It is true that Allah claims that some of the work is literally true and some is allegorical. (Sura 3:7 Pickthal translation:

3:7 He it is Who hath revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture wherein are clear revelations - they are the substance of the Book - and others (which are) allegorical. But those in whose hearts is doubt pursue, forsooth, that which is allegorical seeking (to cause) dissension by seeking to explain it. None knoweth its explanation save Allah. And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord; but only men of understanding really heed.

Yusuf Ali puts it as:
7. He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:" and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.

Shakir:
He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation. but none knows its interpretation except Allah, and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say: We believe in it, it is all from our Lord; and none do mind except those having understanding.

None of which, to me, clears things up, and none imply that the words themselves or the ideas expressed can be changed. If the book declares that interest is forbidden, or that two women's testimony in certain matters equals one man's, those are not allegories, and they remain true.)

------------------------(breathe, get coffee, come back -------

The second claim is that this is not just Allah's revelation, but his final one. "The book of prophecy is closed, the pen is put away, the inkwell has run dry." (I'm not sure if this comes from the Hadith, but a member of the forum used it, and it was so well-said I have used it. I do not believe that a strict Muslim would deny it.)

Think about this for a minute. EVERYTHING Allah had to say to mankind is in this book, expressed in terms understandable to a 7th Century Arab. Forget whatever growth in knowledge we have had over the past 1350 years, forget the growth in morals that has seen us realize the evil slavery is, the evil it was to take women prisoners in war and marry them by right of conquest, forget the political changes, the social changes that came after that time. The message is here, once and for all.

(And Allah, we must assume, had the option when he would make this final revelation. He could have waited a millenia or so to find his messenger. If he chose to make it then, to close his message then, it was deliberate. Those other changes in humanity, in knowledge, in social arrangements, in morals, COULDN'T have mattered, or else he would just have waited before he sent Gabriel to Earth. Again, there is no changing of this message, no reinterpreting it in light of Copernicus, Gallileo, Darwin, Jefferson, Lincoln, King, Einstein, Pasteur, even Shakespear. The 'inkwell has run dry,' and Allah knew it would.)

And then there is the third incredible claim. This message is not just the message Allah gave to Mohammed, it is the same message he gave to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to Jesus. And they got it right. It was just their followers who messed it up. I have heard it said, quite definitely that Jesus was a Muslim, that Adam was a Muslim, that Moses was a Muslim. (Oops, there goes evolution, because if Adam was a Muslim, that means he existed.)

-----take another break, your bladder MUST be full --------------

If the "Spectrum of belief' was the same in Islam as it was in Christianity and Judaism, this wouldn't be that important. I described this Spectrum in the last post. I didn't give names or (purely illustrative) percentages to the divisions. I'll try that here, but to understand it, go back and check out the post.

Christianity and Judaism divide pretty much like this -- again, these aren't meant to be accurate numbers, just illustrative
Literalist/Fundamentalist 5%
Conservative 25%
Liberal 25%
Casual/secular 20%
Social/customary 20%
Atheist/Agnostic 5%
(I'm basing my figures on America and Europe for Christianity. In America you'd see a jump in the Literalist/Fundamentalist number and a drop in the others, mostly in the Liberal.)

Now there is a wide range of opinion in Islam, but NOT because these groups exist in similar numbers. Islam has no heirarchy, no authoritative clergy. The interpretation of what the words mean differs from person to person, from group to group, but there is almost no difference as to the fact that the words are literally true.

The Literalist/Fundamentalist group is not a small minority, it is the majority. And the second and third groups seem to disappear.

PLEASE, this is my observation. If anyone can correct me on this, please do. I hope I AM wrong about this.

It seems as if people move from Fundamentalist to secular or customary without stopping, and many move straight out the door to atheism or rejection at least of Islam.

And this, as I'll show in my next post, leads to a GREAT number of difficulties.

And there is a final claim of Islam. Not as strong as the others, at least not in the extension of it. But there. That islam is a 'complete way of life,' not a religion. Everything involves Islam. Perhaps the most important part of this involves the insistence of Muslims that they must be under Sharia law.

We'll come back to this later, but the key is that, for a large number of Muslims, this involves politics as well. Islam is seen as an eventual world government, there is a belief in the revival of the caliphate, of a working towards a Unification of all Muslims, or at the least of turning Muslim states into Islamic states. Another thing that will be important in future posts.

Okay, you can relax now. That buzzing and ringing in your ears will fade after a while. But there will be more, tomorrow.

Because Literalism has a cost, a very serious cost. And I'll start discussing this in my next post.

MPwI 3 - The Qur'an and literalism/fundamentalism

(At last some meat, or at least a healthy-sized appetizer. I'll still wander a bit, but this will start getting to the point -- and no, for those who have spoken with me 'getting to the point is NOT against my religion,' it just takes me a while.)

About seven months ago, I had never had much discussion with Muslims, and I had only glanced at the copy of the Qur'an I owned -- the Palmer translation. I had assumed my problems with it was due to the age of the translation, and had put reading it on my "To Do -- Someday" list.

I had expected it, in my ignorance, to be much like the Bible, a collection of anecdotes, parables, stories, speeches, rules, etc. I certainly never expected to find anything in it that would challenge my atheism, any more than I did in the Testaments. But I expected, as I do with the Testaments, to find parts that were interesting, uplifting, morally wise, charming, even beautiful. If I did not expect divinity, I expected humanity. Some things I knew would repel me, or I would consider absurd, again as with the Testaments, but I expected these would be in the minority. And, at the least, I expected a 'good read.'

I also expected to find a spectrum among Muslims something similar to the one I found with Christians and Jews. There would be a small minority of 'literalist/fundamentalists,' who saw the book as the 'word of God,' unchangeable, every word meaningful and unquestionable. (For later reference, I'll number the groups. I)

There would a considerably larger group that accepted the book as the 'divinely inspired Word of God,' and accepted this in essence, accepted the existence of a divinity much like the one portrayed, but realized that the books were also the word of men, affected by their times, limited by their human abilities.(II)

A similar-sized group would accept the basic idea of a divinity as described in the book, would accept that the essence was accurate in religious terms, but would realize that many of the parts were questionable, contradictory, or simply wrong. (The most common Christian Phraseology is "The Bible is a book of Religion, it is not meant as a book of History or Science.")(III)

The next group would be more secular, who would accept, maybe in general terms that there was a God, for Christians, that Jesus was also divine, but didn't think that much about it. They'd accept parts of the Bible as having gotten it right, but realize that it was a work written by men, good, ethical men, men who believed, but who would give it only a little more weight than any other religious work, Augustine's CITY OF GOD, Theresa's mystical writings, Maimonedes and Hillel, maybe even the texts of Buddhism, seeing them as all attempts to find the 'right way to live.'(IV)

A smaller group would be totally secular, though maybe still performing the rituals of the religion for cultural, historical, or social reasons -- religion as a form of social binding. The type, in Christianity who might accept the Gospels, love things like the Sermon on the Mount, might weep at the Passion and Crucifixion, would probably never bother to spend much time with Paul, and who would consider the Apocalypse as the wild phantasmagoria it is, giving it little weight as anything but a collection of images.(V)

AQnd finally there would be those who were simply turned off by the nonsense in it, had no ability to accept the concept of a God, who might, as well, be turned off by the actions and history of the 'Men of God,' the preachers and teachers that used the book for power, or who were hypocrites, or whose puritanism or confusion of ritualism with ethics or denial of the wonder of human sexuality simply drove them from religion. (I am in this group, but my rejection was predominantly intellectual. I find the concept of a God an absurdity, backed by no evidence whatsoever, I am aware of the contradictions of the Testaments, the logical contradictions in the concept of a God.)(VI)

Anyway, that is the 'spectrum' of Christianity and Judaism, as I have witnessed it, and when my discussions in the Pakistani Forum and my own fascination with religion as a human activity caused me to look closer at Islam and the Qur'an, I didn't expect to find Islam that much different.

(I expected to find the Fundamentalist end a bit bigger than in the other groups, and the 'plain wacko' types like Bin Laden and the suicide bombers in Palestine to be a larger minority than the equivalent -- and I considered, at the time, that the 'suicide bombers' were innocents manipulated into political acts through the appeal to a twisted form of their religion. And I knew there were a higher proportion of Muslims who embraced some of the -- to me -- odder manifestations of their religion, the Hijab and Nijab, the praying five times a day facing Mecca. But I still expected the basic spectrum to be similar.)

Those of you who are Muslim will know that I found that few of my expectations were realized. I found a different type of book than I had expected, a different attitude towards it than I found in Christianity or Judaism, much higher claims for the Qur'an than the Testaments make, and a completely different spectrum.

But this post has gone on long enough, and the outside world is calling me. I hope to get the next post done later tonight, if not, then tomorrow evening -- I'll be busy during the day on that personal problem I've mentioned. I'll discuss what I did find when I looked into Islam and the Qur'an then.

MPwI 2 7/8 - The Qur'an

Just a quick preliminary post. I am aware that, to a Muslim, the Qur'an ONLY exists in Arabic, and that any translation is properly referred to as "The Meaning of the Qur'an." I am not using that convention. I do not read Arabic, so when i refer to the Qur'an, I am referring to one of the four translations available to me, the Palmer, Pickthal, and Yusuf Ali (on the wonderful Internet sacred-texts website
http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/index.htm

and the Shakir, available on
http://www.hti.umich.edu/k/koran/

(The Palmer translation includes a lengthy introduction dealing with the history of Mohammed and the environment in which he lived. I may mention this, but as of yet I have not had a chance to compare his comments to other sources. The Shakir translation has the advantage of being searchable.)

I have also made some use of the "Skeptic's Annotated Quran" available on
http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/index.htm

(For those of you who check this out and conclude it is a Christian plot to degrade Islam, at least see how he handles the Old and New Testaments. He's much rougher on them -- he also annotates the Book of Mormon, though he hasn't finished that yet. In fact, he totally misses the Qur'an's repeated support for a geocentric Universe. He uses the Pickthal translation, btw.)

My problems with Islam 2 1/2

Just a quick note before I start on the Qur'an to insist that I do NOT blame Islam for its perversions, like Osama (or al-Zawahiri, the real brains behind OBL -- if it wouldn't be misunderstood, I'd call him the Karl Rove to Osama's Bush) or the Taliban. These are no more Islam than some of the wilder sects are Christianity. So please don't dismiss me on a 'here they go again,' auto-reaction.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

My problems with Islam 2 -Help and hope, PLEASE

As I said in the last post, I WANT people to argue with me, to show me where I am wrong, to prove my pessimism unjustified. Not the standard apologetics, but some evidence that the moderate, reforming Muslims won't remain in a minority, too often fearful for their lives or freedom. Some evidence that Islam can free itself from its literalness, its paranoia, its double standard that excuses anyone who 'acts in the name of Islam,' or denies it.

The wonderful Egyptian, The Big Pharoah wrote, earlier this month,

"I wrote before that we’re currently in the midst of a clash of civilizations and this clash won’t end unless Islam experience what Christianity and Judaism experienced which is religious reform. However, there is another clash going on, a subset of the larger clash of civilization, a clash between Islam and Christianity.

...

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are marching towards very dark days. The gulf between Islam and the west is getting wider everyday. And the west don’t need to show more tolerance because it has already shown it. It is us who need to change. It is us who need to complete what we started over 80 years ago and got interrupted by fake nationalism and lately chauvinistic religiosity."

He also wrote the "New 10 Commandments" which ended with

"10.Your leaders should know that what was OK in the year 706 might not be OK in the year 2006. I won’t get upset if you changed a few things in the laws and regulations as long as you continue to profess faith in me, pray to me, fast during Ramadan, give alms, and perform Hajj if you’re capable of doing so."

(Both, and much other wisdom is available at
href="href="http://bigpharaoh.blogspot.com/2006_02_01_bigpharaoh_archive.html"

Please, write in and argue with me. I may fight back against the arguments "There are moderate Muslims out there" which there are unless you can tell me they are even considering attempting to gain political power. I will not be quiet if you say "The problem is that people aren't being Islamic enough, and the solution is MORE Islam" unless you've responded to my other points.

But please, write something, not because I need comments, but because I need peace, and to stop doubting my own ability to be tolerant of something I believe is wrong, and to think that Islam is merely wrong the way Christianity is, and not the way Nazism, segregation, and Communism were.

I'll start, in my next post, with a discussion of the Qur'an, of the attitude towards it, and why I think this bleeds over into other aspects of Muslim life.

My Problems with Islam 1

I was going to call this the "Muslim Mindset." I reconsidered, and am glad I did. There isn't, of course, a "Muslim mindset." Muslims aren't all of a piece. And my apologies for the cliche, but it is literally true that since I have been actively communicating on the net, most of my friends, and most of the blogs I read happen to be by Muslims. (It all started with checking out Egyptian SandMonkey's blog, and following links to links to links. If I ever get a blogroll up, there will easily be fifty to a hundred different blogs from the Middle East, or from people who came from there, and if I ever get in touch with my Pakistani friends, I'll be including many of them here.)

I read their good and sensible words -- okay sometimes some of them lean a little too much towards the neo-con for me, but I can understand this. I read their challenges of mob rule, of crazy imams, of hypocrisy, and I cheer. So many of them are secular, or speak about a moderated Islam, an Islam that -- though they might not use the word -- is truly a Reformed Islam. Or sometimes they don't discuss religion at all, just talk about their lives, what they experience, even their cats. Reading them gives me hope.

But they are such a small minority. As I read them, I also read the news, the intersect fighting in Iraq, the stories they tell of Islamicizers moving closer to power. (I know of no Muslim country where the sort of moderation that I read from Sandy, or the Big Pharaoh, or the others is even a minor political force, is even attempting to get some power. Perhaps I am wrong, please tell me I am wrong and give me examples. All i read is countries where a moderately secular government is trying to hold power against the Islamicizers, and usually making more and more concessions to them to hold on to power -- Sharia, Hudood ordinances, etc.)

And I read the others, and remember the discussions I had on that forum I have spoken of. And I remember the sites I was directed to, the arguments I got into, friendly ones yes, but the sadness of the responses I received.

And I read Omar, and his Bridging the Gap project. Such a brilliant idea, if it had been what he had purported it to be. Instead I read the same old apologetics, the same old 'don't blame us for a few crazies' (but the crazies aren't a few), 'aren't Christians sometimes terrorists too?' (yes, a minute minority that are rejected by any government they come in contact, but what Muslim government is cracking down on terrorists), "Islam isn't anti-woman, Mohammed was far ahead of Christianity when he wrote" (yes, but the West moved ahead -- partially by 'taming Christianity' and becoming secular -- but the Qur'an is immoveable and 'unchangeable.')

And I remember the superstitions and gullibility of my friends, and how sad it was that they saw the world that way. Really believing in djinns, and ghosts, and that "good dreams come from Allah, bad ones from Satan.' Creationism and the phrase one (admittedly young and not overly bright) Muslim said in the discussion, "You say monkeys turned into men, I say that men were turned into monkeys." (And I have found the verses in the Qur'an which gave him this idea). I remember the ones, not always unintelligent, not at all overly religious, who denied the Moon Landing, who bought into the "9/11 was a plot by Bush" idiocy. And the ones who in all seriousness and sincerity talked about Bush (or America) killing 'millions of Muslims.'

And the paranoia, the firm belief by so many of them, by so many writers I have read, that everybody was plotting against Islam. The belief that some of them had that "Armageddon" (and the belief that the end of days was near was as rampant among them as among the most scared of Christian Fundamentalists) would be a battle between Christians and Muslims, and their belief that Christians 'believed the same thing, the only difference was who would win.' (For those of my readers who are Muslim and who believe the same thing, let me say that I have NEVER read a Christian Apocalypticist even mentioning Muslims or Islam. They have different enemies in mind.)

And I remember a friend, who, in fact, described himself as a 'closet atheist' but who was so infected with the idea that non-Muslims were 'enemies,' that it took me a month to get him to even consider reading Naipaul, for no other reason than he was Indian (even though Naipaul's family had been Trinidadian for generations, he had no religious faith, and I praised his objectivity and abvility as a reporter.) Another discussion of Pakistan was dismissed, not because it was wrong, but because it had been published in a Bangladeshi newspaper and therefore had to be unworthy of notice.

And then come the true horrors -- and don't tell me that Christians do the same. They have committed some horrors, as have Jews, and Hindus, and others. But if I could put a pie graph here of all the horrors in the past twenty-five years, the suicide bombings, the religious riots, the other bombings, the murders of 'people who have offended our religion', the honor killings and girls kidnapped into marriage, the rapes as 'punishment', the beheadings and kidnappings and murders in churches and destruction of religious symbols and sites -- all the actions that were taken 'in the name of religion' there would be tiny, almost invisible slices for the other religions, maybe, with the abortion clinic bombings and the 'troubles' in Ireland, a larger slice for Christianity, but 99% of the chart would be colored green.

Now I have some ideas as to why these attitudes, these problems are endemic to Islam, and I am going to explore them. Hopefully more coherently than I have in this post. But please, i WANT arguements about what i have to say. As I'll explain in the next post.

(And yes, I'll get back to cats, and tv, and domestic politics soon enough.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Not quite yet

Another delay in posting. The personal problem has settled down, but the events in Iraq yesterday and today have gotten me so divided between anger and depression that I am afraid I couldn't post anything about Islam with anything like rationality. Fortunately the existence of Iraqi bloggers of all types is calming me a little. Tomorrow hopefully.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Slight goof

For some reason the title to my post on Islam below got removed. It should have been listed as "My experience with Muslims and Islam."

The "Word From Above"

Everybody else has his or her own blog, so why not God? If you want to know what he has to say, check out

http://bigoldgod.blogspot.com/

Since I am an atheist, I have to admit that I can't really accept this is by a diety. On the other hand, if I ever were to be convinced of the existence of one, I'd hope he'd be like this particular God, funny, caustic, tolerant, and friendly.

As I so frequently must, I give thanks to the Egyptian Sandmonkey for turning me on to this.

http://egyptiansandmonkey.blogspot.com/2006/02/powers-that-blog.html#comments

(The Lucifer blog he refers to isn't nearly as clever or funny. And the "Talk to God" blog that Lucifer links to isn't worth your time. Different 'aspect of the deity' entirely.)

As I said to Sandmonkey, what would be interesting is one purporting to come from Allah or Mohammed. Unfortunately, neither of them seem gifted with a sense of humor, nor do their followers.

Monday, February 20, 2006

I have been promising, in comments on several sites, to post a long discussion of my view of the "Muslim Mindset." (Of course, that would be idiocy if taken literally. Muslims are no more 'all alike' than any other group.) What I am going to try to portray and explain are certain traits that seem to be very common in Muslims that result in some of the conflicts and misunderstandings on both side of the Muslim/Western rationalistic divide.

Some of the topics I hope to touch on, in what may become a long series of posts -- and I seem to have a number of 'series of posts started, which i do expect to get back to and complete -- include the difference in the attitude of Muslims to the Qur'an (similar to the Fundamentalist/Literalist mindset of a minority of American Christians, but with some specific twists), the Muslim tendency towards gullibility and lack of critical thinking, the Muslim paranoia that frequently sees every other group's actions as aimed at Islam, the confusion between opponent and 'enemy,' the Muslim double standard that frequently seems to prohibit or explain away or deny actions by other Muslims -- or to claim of any Muslim that does anything wrong that 'he isn't really a Muslim.' (This leads in the extreme to '9/11 denial'(and I should state that I do not consider the Osamists anything other than perverters of Islam, not exemplars of it), but also comes up in discussions of things such as 'honor killings' and women's right.

But what right have I to talk about such things, or rather what right do I have to be listened to when I do. All I can do is give some of the sources of my observations -- and to stress that I have only discussed things that seem to be patterns shown in various observations. (I have also requested several Muslim bloggers to look in on and comment on these observations.)

I am someone who follows world news, and who has also been interested in History for much of my life. (And I am the sort of person who tries to read several books on a given subject and to 'triangulate' the various observations rather than accepting them whole.) I have studied areas such as the Middle East, the split between India and Pakistan, etc. I have also followed and read closely comments about events that have been in the news over the past few months. The Danish cartoon controversy, of course, but also the stories of Mukhtar Mai and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, stories of honor killings, the Indonesian beheadings, the Pakistan church killings, the Saudi Arabian destruction of Islamic historical sites, etc. In each case I have been as interested in the reaction to such events by Muslims as I was in the events themselves.

I have found the insights in V.S. Naipaul's AMONG THE BELIEVERS very valuable, even though they are somewhat dated. Even older by a hundred years is the introduction to E.H. Palmer's translation of the Qur'an, and I am still hoping to get other sources on his statements, but I found his description of Mahammed and the early history of Islam to be thought-provoking.

My most important insights came, however, from a five month period I spent on an almost entirely Pakistani forum. (I didn't go there to 'do research.' I went there because I love Pakistani music, and expected to be discussing that. Instead I found a very wide range of topics being discussed from many varied viewpoints, and was welcomed when I joined in on these.

I cannot stress enough that despite my status as an 'odd duck' -- not coming from South Asia or of South Asian descent (there were a handful of Indians, everyone else was Pakistani or Kashmiri), non-Muslim and in fact an atheist, (there were a couple of Hindus and one Pakistani Christian, everyone else was brought up Muslim, though there were some who had left the faith), the second oldest in a group of mostly teenagers and people in their twenties, bisexual in a somewhat sexually conservative group -- I was received with great friendship and respect and, in fact have rarely enjoyed the company of a group of people as much as i did them. I left the group voluntarily because, after having finally begun discussing my atheism and in the heated and lively discussion being repeatedly referred to the Qur'an, I finally read it through. I realized that if I stayed, I would find myself attacking their faith instead of merely giving my own beliefs. Many of them were at the age when I ceased being able to be a believer. I have never doubted that i made the right choice in this, but it was an extremely stressful decision and i simply refused to possibly be the direct cause of some of them making the same decision. So I left.

But while i was there i heard many things that helped me get an idea of what i have called the Muslim mindset, things that have only been confirmed in seeing other comments by Muslims. (Even when they were Muslims who objected as strongly as i did to the attitudes that bothered me, they described them and I saw echoes in the discussions I had had. And few of them would claim to be in anything but the minority when they objected, few would claim the attitudes i saw were 'just a few extremists,' mostly because many of them lived in communities where they saw the ideas expressed every day. (Not that any of them, or any of the forum members would necessarily accept my interpreatation of them.)

Anyway, that's why I think what i think about islam. Over the next few days i will be describing in detail what it is i DO think. sorry for the length this is getting to be, but i hope at least a couple of your have gone through it at least enough to have an idea where I am coming from.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Now it is 45

People killed in the cartoon riots. At least according to the Associated Press.

In my discussion of blame in the last post, I should have made a special point of condemning the imam who forged three cartoons -- truly offensive ones, far worse than the original -- and included them in the folder he claimed had been printed. If they actually had been in the group, it would have made the over-reaction, if not excusable, a little more understandable.

Friday, February 17, 2006

27 and counting

I have probably overlooked some, but right now the death toll stands at at least 27 as a direct result of Muslim violence in responce to the 'insult' of the cartoons. 10 in Libya, 12 in Afghanistan, 5 in Pakistan (including an 8 year old boy). I'd appreciate anyone telling me any I've missed. I will keep a running total on this blog every day. Is Muslim society the only current one where instituting the Code Duello would mean an improvement?

And no, I do NOT blame the newspapers who originally or subsequently published the cartoons, even if they were meant as deliberate provocations. Free speech MEANS being provocative, and it belongs to everyone, not just to those who can pass a test of political innocuousness.

Why we are in Iraq

I'll start by saying I think we made many mistakes in going into Iraq, that I opposed it and still do -- though I supported the first Gulf War. I believe we should have worked with the United Nations to solve the problem. I think the American people and the world were misled about the reasons for going into Iraq. I believe that, while toppling Saddam was a good thing, and whatever push we have given Iraq towards a working Democracy is good, many of our actions -- in Fallujah and Abu Gharaib in particular -- and our lack of a coherent way of leaving may threaten to undo that good. And I feel our blunders have so disgusted the American people that a possibly far more justifiable attack on a nuclear Iran has become politically impossible.

I think we have to begin a disengagement, but one which whill preserve as much as possible of the good results of our incursion. (And I do not think we can disengage entirely until Saddam has been convicted and imprisoned or executed -- war crimes committed by a head of state or his closest associates might be the only exception I would make to my opposition to the death penalty. If a Saddam were not put to death, it would leave open the possibility of a 'return from Elba,' the worst possible result of our incursion.)

But what this is about is why we are there. By now certain things are obvious to all but the most hypnotized. There were no WMD, and Bush had been told this. There was no link between Al Qaeda and Saddam -- in fact Saddam represented the sort of secularist leader of a Muslim country that Bin Laden most hated. And there were plans for the invasion of Iraq that predated 9/11.

Most people see the invasion as a 'fiendishly clever' scheme by Bush -- even supporters see it as this in some cases, of course agreeing with the ends. (For those who see the absurdity of combining George Bush and 'fiendishly clever,' the villains are the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Cheney group, manipulating Howdy Georgy.)

I'm going to suggest another explanation. It's pure speculation, but based on a lot of observation of Dubya, and the memory of two facts that get overlooked.

I do not believe George Bush LIED about the WMD or AlQaeda link. Lying is making statements that are known to be false. I believe that George Bush believed they were true. I believe he has the sort of religious mentality that, when it believes it knows "THE TRUTH" and is shown facts that contradict it, equally 'knows' the facts HAVE to be wrong and can be disregarded. (It's the mentality of Creationists, among many other types -- and his occasional support for Creationism seems heartfelt rather than political.)

I believe he convinced himself because, from the time he entered office, he wanted to invade Iraq, and he needed an excuse -- not to the world, but for his own conscience. (It's not a new phenomena. It's like the person who deliberately antagonizes someone so he will swing, and the first person can argue, "I didn't want to fight, I was just acting in self-defense.")

I don't think he was manipulated at all. I doubt if he understood the Wolfowitz/neo-con arguments. He was just glad to have them as a further 'cover.'

But why? Here is where I am speculating, but my explanation seems at least plausible. Remember two things. First, that Saddam was behind an attempt on the Senior Bush's life. Second, that Bush I got criticized, by many people, put particularly by Republicans, for failing to 'press on to Baghdad' and topple Saddam -- at a time when most of the world expected precisely that, and much of it -- including the Muslim world -- hoped he would.

Then remember 1994. It seems obvious, and has been stated repeatedly, that the Bush family had a plan to avenge Daddy's defeat by Bill Clinton. Jeb would run for Governor of Florida, and George for the Texas Statehouse. Jeb -- the handsome, charismatic, appealing one -- would win, and use it as a springboard to the White House. If George won, great. He could use the office as a way of helping Jeb. And he couldn't do much damage, since the Texas Governor is one of the weakest of State Executives. (I've seen it stated by students of Texas politics that he not only ranks below the heads of the legislature, but below the Secretary of Agriculture.) If not, which was likely since he was trying to defeat Ann Richards, okay, he at least had a shot.

The only thing that nobody expected was what happened. Jeb lost, and George -- Dumb, funny-looking, overly religious, uncharismatic ex-drunk George -- WON. Okay, change the strategy, and hope the Democrats run somebody beatable even by George. (And Jeb DID manage to win the Governorship in 1998, so he'd be able to help, but nobody guessed how his help would be needed or given.)

Now George isn't the brightest, but he's not a total idiot. And, as people tend to forget about politicians, he's a human being first, a member of a family, with the stresses any family puts on a child, only magnified because of the prominence of THIS family.

Think about it. Think about a child, probably loved, but looked down on. Little Georgie, getting a chance to do two things at once. First to avenge Daddy. (Look, Daddy, see what I did for you!) And then to succeed at one thing that Daddy 'failed' at. (Look, Daddy, you couldn't get rid of Saddam. But look at who did. Me. Dumb George. I did what you couldn't. Who's the dumb one now?)

I can't prove it, it's pure speculation, but it makes a lot more sense to me than any of the other theories I've heard.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

This one I DON'T understand

I've always tended to get a lot of wrong number calls, but recently I have been getting automated ones. The phone rings, I pick it up, and an obviously mechanical voice goes "Sorry, my mistake."

Huh?

It seems likely there is something behind this. If five minutes later I got a call from one of the many services trying to offer me a new mortgage -- on a house I don't own -- or a GREAT BUY on satellite tv -- which, being sensible, I got years ago -- or the discount coupon book I won for entering a contest in local shopping malls -- which I haven't been to in ten years -- I'd understand it. But so far I haven't gotten any followup.

Is there some sort of mechanical equivalent of "if a man answers, hang up?" (Wonder how they would have dealt with my mother, whose voice was so 'masculine' that I loved seeing the look on the faces of friends when she called their homes. "Who is this?"
"Jim's mother."
"His WHAT!!!!???)

Does anyone out there have the faintest idea what is going on with these calls?

Err, the pictures were supposed to be there

And they will be, soon. I was told they were uploaded, but somehow they didn't show up. Well, if you learn by your mistakes, give me a couple of more weeks and I'll be a bloody genius.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Meet The Family: 1 (Poo)

The family includes five cats, one wife, and me -- and I assure you Em would want the cats listed first too. Rather than introduce them all at once, -- they can be a bit overwhelming in a group -- I figure I'll let you meet one at a time, hopefully every other day or so.

The first one -- I'm going in order of seniority here -- is Poo, our feisty old lady, who actually has been here longer than I have. We aren't sure whether she is 19 or 20. She was an adult cat 18 years ago when Em's then roommate, Roz, found her chained up outside a store on Chambers Street and rescued her, and she's been with Em ever since.

She doesn't show her age much. Occasionally she'll have a 'senior moment' when she stands around looking confused, wondering what she was doing, but I've been having those sorts of moments myself for about 50 years. She looks frail and delicate, but she's got the best appetite of any of the group, and when her plate is finished she'll pick the nearest plate and start finishing that.

Oh, she loves to eat. She's always been bossy, but she's refined it through the years. Now, if I'm a little late with a meal, she lets the whole house know it. If I'm more than a little late, she lets all of Midwood -- my section of Brooklyn -- know it. I try and tell her that I know she's lying when she insists that she hasn't been fed for three whole days -- it's usually closer to six hours since the five cats get fed three cans a day plus dry food -- but she gets even more insistent.

And her 'frailty' doesn't stop her from being part of the 'sparring matches' that our cats have made part of their pre-meal ritual. But it does win her a few special privileges. Our house -- actually we have the bottom floor of the house Em grew up in, we got it when her folks moved permanently to Florida -- can get chilly, so Poo is taken out to the living room couch at night and tucked in with blankets surrounding her. And there are certain 'people foods' that she automatically gets a share of, tuna, other fish, or chicken.

She's not as mobile as when we first moved in here four years ago. The move was a very good thing for her. In our old apartment she was a little too crowded and had some trouble with the younger cats -- she's always been a problem in one way. Somehow, even as a young cat, she never got the page in the cat manual about covering up after bathroom trips, and some of our cats are very formal and would get annoyed at her. To the point where she was spending almost all her time on the kitchen table. (Surprisingly enough, the cat that caused the most trouble for her when she was on the floor was the one who would sleep there with her, you'll meet Kittenz in due time.)

But here she had more room, eight rooms rather than three, and she was freer to wander around without getting into trouble, and the cat room -- we have turned one room completely over to the cats, for their dining room with a closet for their bathroom -- meant she had less trouble. But she still now limits her excursions to the living room, the radiator in the parlor and her own chair in the hall outside the cat room -- even if Em is stiing on it, when she wants it, she gets it.

She no longer comes and sleeps on my ankles, though she's sleep on Em's chest when she's lying on the living room couch, and her purr is a lot weaker. But she's still a loving and much loved member of the family.

And here are a couple of (bad) pictures of her. Unfortunately, I took the batch of pictures you will be seeing here. Em has promised to take some more when we can, and she's a much beter photographer.

But, to introduce Miss Pooness -- Poo for short

The trouble with this here bloggin' stuff

Is that there is so much good stuff available to read that sometimes I get lost in a series of blogs and forget I'm supposed to be posting one of my own. Yesterday I was reading a great group of them from the Middle East -- or by people from the Middle East who have moved to America. Today I almost got trapped in the Carnival of Bad History #4
http://www.neuralgourmet.com/badhistory/4/cobh4 but pulled myself out in time. Anyway, if you see me miss a few days, blame yourselves for not being boring enough.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

How could I forget

When I mentioned The Big Pharaoh to also include these other voices.

Nadz Online - a delightfully tart-tongued Palestinian-American
http://nadz101.blogspot.com/

And the wonderful Egyptian SandMonkey
http://egyptiansandmonkey.blogspot.com/

There will be many more entries on my blogroll, once I've got one, but these two should be checked out soonest.

Prup

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Maybe I've finally figured out

how to post a link. If so, here's one everyone should see. It's to a very good Egyptian blog by "The Big Pharaoh" and you HAVE to see his "New Ten Commandments." Hilarious, but also very meaningful.

http://bigpharaoh.blogspot.com/

The entry is dated Feb. 09.

Advice to Democratic candidates: I

Many years ago (at least 45) I was, briefly, a fan of professional wrestling, not one of my prouder moments, certainly, but I was. Apparently today no one claims it is real, and because of that, they are able to script it better, with all sorts of characters. Back then there were only a few regular types. One I remember was the 'stupid hero.' His job was to go into the ring against the 'new villain' get clobbered, and thus set up -- and sell tickets for -- a big live match between the 'new villain' and the real hero.

There was almost always one scene where the villain, after pulling all sorts of 'rotten stuff' would walk towards the S.H. with his hand out. "Let's shake and stop all this dirty stuff." The audience, having IQs at least high enough to enable them to find the program in the TV guide, or to get to the arena without getting lost, knew what was coming and would yell to the S.H. "No, don't trust him."

But the hero knew he was a 'good guy' and would reach his hand out to shake, and *wham* he'd be kicked in the balls, or hit over the head, or whatever was the villain's pet nasty.

What has this got to do with politics? Well, I've seen a lot of Democrats play the part of the stupid hero over the years I've been watching politics. They play by the rules -- and rightly so -- but they seem to expect that the Republicans will too.

Guys, Republicans lie. They slander. They misquote and misrepresent. They confuse issues so badly that some Fundies are convinced that extending tax cuts appears somewhere in the Bible.

How do you THINK they keep on getting elected? You've seen the polls. You know that the majority of the people are on your side on the issues. The trouble is that you think this is the ONLY thing that matters. It matters, sure, but so does the way people feel about the candidates, and that's where the Republicans know all the tricks. They'll pick one or two controversial issues and try and get you to waffle on them (I'll have more on this in another post) and then paint you as untrustworthy. They'll misquote your record. They'll do anything they can to make the election about YOU.

And you fall for it, too often for the good of the country.

So, my first advice is for anyone who is pretty sure he's going to be running for Congress, and running in a doubtful district -- some of you couldn't lose whatever happened, some of you couldn't win if Jesus, Moses and Mohammad all appeared on your platform and testified for you. But for those running where the vote is going to be as close as 60-40, either way:

Go out and find a Karl Rove type. Get him to plan the nastiest, rottenest, most underhanded campaign imaginable, one that is as totally unfair as he can be -- against YOU. Study that campaign. be ready for anything your opponent can throw against you. Be ready so that the moment a particularly rock-filled mudball comes your way, instead of standing there wiping your face, you can duck, or better, catch it and throw it back.

You can use his charges, lies, and labels against him, not by throwing mud yourself, but by taking the charges and reinterpreting them. To take the most obvious example, you'll be called a liberal. If you are to the right of Rupert Murdoch you'll be called a liberal, but I'm assuming that in fact you ARE one, at least compared to your opponent.

Now for fifty years, at least, the Republicans have tried to make the word a BAD word. The trouble is that Democrats have let them, have even encouraged them. "Liberal! Who, me? Oh, no, I'm not one of those nasty, rotten things. I'm a Progressive, or a Moderate, or 'don't try and stick labels on me'" Meanwhile, people are going to think both that you are a liberal and that you are ashamed of being one.

What is wrong with running an ad that goes something like this:

"My opponent has been running commercials claiming I'm a liberal. I want to thank him for saying it. Somehow he thinks its bad to call some one a liberal, and maybe he's got you thinking it is. So let's look at some of the things liberals have stood for over the decades.

'Liberals produced social security, and when they did, conservatives called it socialistic.

'Liberals called for civil rights for all people, whatever their color. It was conservatives who argued that we should protect states' rights, who said that we shouldn't change a social system that had lasted for many years.

'Liberals fought for the rights of people to form unions. Conservatives called this violation of a worker's right to 'freedom of contract.''

'Liberals fought for freedom of speech for all opinions. Conservatives argued that questioning the government was dangerous and even was near to treason.'

'Liberals called for women to have the right to work at whatever job they wanted to, to be paid equally, to have the same rights as men, to choose whether to have a career outside the home or to stay home with their family. Conservatives worried that if they could choose it would threaten the stability of the home, the stability that could only be maintained, they said, if women only were mothers and housewives.'

'So yes, I'm a liberal. Not on every issue, but on some important ones. Think about it, and maybe, on some of them, you'll find you are liberals too."

(to be continued)

Friday, February 10, 2006

WHOoray! (I hope)

Finally, this March, we in America will be able to see the New DOCTOR WHO series that has been running on the BBC for a little over a year. And from what I've seen of the clips, this is the REAL Doctor, unlike the horrible Americanized telemovie that ran on Fox in the nineties. (That was, fortunately, the only tv appearance of the 8th Doctor, though there have been a whole series of books featuring him that make him a real, if somewhat dull incarnation of the ever-changing Time Lord from Gallifrey.)

The upcoming series features Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, though he's already regenerated into the 10th (played by David Tennant).

As you have probably already gathered, I'm a DOCTOR WHO fan, and have been since several local PBS stations began running the series. I've seen almost all the available episodes -- the BBC wiped the tapes of most of the First and Second Doctor adventures, a decision they have greatly regretted. (As have I, and most fans. Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor was one of the more interesting ones, judging from the few fragments that have remained available and from the novelizations and 'further adventures' that have appeared in book form. World Game which i just finished in particular is a fun adventure in which the Second Doctor finds himself dealing with Napoleon, Talleyrand, and Wellington.)

I know I'll be enjoying the new series, as will most of those who saw the Doctor on PBS. (The first episode brings back villains from the 3rd Doctor who are authentically scary -- and I think there's been only one other time when a tv show actually scared me, and I was in my early teens then.)

What worries me is whether there will be enough people who know the series to keep it going, that and the fact that it is the Sci-Fi channel that is running it. This isn't the first time they've tried to deal with Doctor Who. In fact the commercials they ran before they went on the air featured shots of William Hartnell (the 1st Doctor) at the controls of the TARDIS. Unfortunately, once they started they slotted the Doctor in an odd time period and rather quickly dropped him -- I didn't see how the episodes were presented then. Brooklyn had just been wired for cable and with their usual incompetence Cablevision had somehow managed to miss the fact that the building I lived in existed. It took, literally, a call to a City Councilman to get us wired, and by that time the Doctor was gone from the air. (Even more annoying, by buying the rights, they kept the PBS stations from bringing the show back.)

Will they do better this time? It's hard to tell. So far they have done nothing to publicize the acquisition, even on their web site, which bothers me. (They have been known to publicize mini-series six months in advance.) And their track record on shows is spotty, to say the least. They've done a wonderful job on the new BATTLESHIP GALACTICA, and they kept STARGATE SG-1 alive long enough for it almost to get back to the level it was when it was running on SHOWTIME.

On the other hand, they've also given us STARGATE ATLANTIS. (Other shows tend to have poor continuity between episodes. Sometimes watching ATLANTIS I wonder if the writer remembers in the last half -- of a one-part episode -- what he wrote in the first half.) And their "Movies of the Week" make me wonder who they think their audience is, and scares me that they might be right.

I can only hope. But if I were running the show, I'd take the week before the preview to run episodes from the classic series during their daily marathons, episodes that would give their audience some idea of the background that the new series assumes. That and start giving this background and some publicity on their web pages. If they don't do something like this, well, I'll enjoy the episodes for as long as they last, and maybe after that I'll be able to get the DVDs.

I'll learn how to post links eventually

But I haven't yet. To get to the link mentioned above, just do a Google for her -- her site is about the fifth listing down. And DO IT, she is worth getting to know.

A new hero

Okay, it isn't possible not to discuss the "Danish cartoon flap." It's simply too important. My position is simple, that the cartoons are banal, pretty tame, and for the most part, not funny. The paper had the right to run them, and yes, Muslims had a right to be offended by some of them. Had they taken non-violent action against the paper, or even its advertisers, I could have no question with this. I couldn't have supported it, but would have accepted it as their right -- I've boycotted a few things in my life that offended me.

But once they started pressuring the Danish government, and once they started threatening violence, the situation changed. At that point it became necessary to support the publication, and to republish the cartoons. (I'd link to them here, but they are too generally available.)

But what I find fascinating is some of the side facts. The heroism of the Jordanian editor who published them, and King Abdullah's criticism of the protestors. The cowardice of so many important news media in American and Europe in not showing them. The fact that the worst of the cartoons were forgeries apparently created by Muslims to stir things up -- the pig, pedophilia, and dog cartoons. (I'm going to have a long piece on Muslim paranoia and double standards sometime in the next couple of days.)

But one result of this has been to give me a new hero. Her name -- yes, her, for me the word 'hero' like 'actor' and 'doctor' comes with neither gender nor genitalia attached -- is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A few months ago Mukhtar Mai was being called the 'bravest woman in the world' for her fight to have her rapists and the Pakistani village council that ordered the rape prosecuted. She deserves the honor, yes, but she should share it with Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Some of you may know of her. More of you should. Many of you remember the killing of Theo VanGogh for directing the short film "Submission" about the treatment of women in Islam. Ms. Hirsi Ali wrote the film, has written a second one about the treatment of gays in Islam, and is writing a third in which Allah features as a main character.

She is a woman who was born in Somalia, grew up in Saudi Arabia and Kenya, was a pious Muslim, but who 'defected' to the West, or to Western culture after she had been 'married' (an arranged marriage) to a Canadian Somali cousin she had never met. She left the plane they were on in Germany and sought asylum in the Netherlands. She was, then, still a pious Muslim, but as she began to work with Muslim women and saw the position they had been placed in, she rethought her beliefs. She has since become an MP in the Netherlands, despite the death threats she has received for her apostasy and for her films. (The killer of Van Gogh left a letter pinned to the corpse's chest with a knife. It was addressed to her.)

She has been speaking out consistently about Islam, its intolerance, and its treatment of women, and she has been a major speaker in Europe against the reaction to the cartoons. Sadly, though she was profiled in the NYTimes magazine she is not well-known in America. The link above is to her website -- the English version, and I would suggest that anyone interested in the subject do a google on her and read some of the entries, particularly the NYTimes Magazine article -- I was going to post a link, but I'm still learning how to use this new toy called a blog. You might also read the IslamOnLine comments as a comparison. (It's fascinating how sure they are that she knows little about Islam, and how much she in fact does.)

I'd thank the site that told me about her, but I was looking at so many sites yesterday that I am not sure whose it was. I think it was Andrew Sullivan's. If so, thanks. If it wasn't thanx to whoever it was, and thanx to Mr. Sullivan for a great site anyway -- I'm nowheres near as conservative as he is, but I respect him nonetheless.

One thing I should have warned you about

I'm long-winded. In the forum I mentioned, I contributed about 1600 posts in 5 months, and few of them were less than a page in length. I tend to go on and on about a topic, saying things in about twice as many words as anyone else will, and wandering and disgressing wildly. There's usually a point to it, if you have the patience, but when I really get going, I can provide a cheap, non-prescription sleep aid.

What this blog - and I -- am about

It will be an eclectic stew, I guess. Primarily the topics will be on politics (I'm a liberal Democrat) -- religion (a tolerant atheist) -- skeptical thinking (not tolerant here, not of quackery, psuedoscience or general nonsense) -- sex (I'm bisexual, and was brought up in a lesbian household in suburban New Jersey in the 50s, which gives me a different slant on a LOT of things), you know, the usual stuff people used to be taught not to talk about at parties and that the blog world would disappear without.

But there will be a lot of other things popping up here and there. TV, Baseball (been a Mets fan since there were Mets -- if not before -- and even remember the 63 team -- everybody remembers the 62 Mets, even if they weren't born then, but I remember Larry Burright and Tim Harkness on the right side of the infield *groan*), mystery stories, Pakistani music (I'm not desi and can't speak Urdu, but I discovered it a while ago and it is the best pop music currently going), occasional recipes (I'm the cook in the house), and, of course, cats. (I have 5 who will be introduced slowly.)

And anything else that my wandering mind happens to stumble on or over.

I'll also be having at least one regular columnist popping up, a cyber-friend from Dubai who should have an interesting slant on things himself. We don't agree on much, we haven't since we both were members of a forum, but we like each other and he should serve as a counterweight to some of my wilder ideas.

Speaking of counterweights, I am married. I don't know if I can convince my wife to contribute -- in fifteen years I've rarely been able to convince her to do anything -- but I hope to. What she'll talk about is anyone's guess.

And one last thing in this post -- they'll be getting smoother as I get used to doing this -- the title and my nickname. Both from my favorite G&S line:

This
Particularly Rapid Unintelligible Patter
Isn't generally heard and
If it is it doesn't matter.

(from "The Gondoliers")

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Now that I have this

I'll start posting tomorrow, since I only tried to make a comment to Deborah Lipstadt.