Wednesday, December 25, 2002

spilled Java

Microsoft has been ordered to include Sun's Java distribution with Windows. From the Reuters story:

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz handed down a preliminary injunction at the request of Sun Microsystems that will force Microsoft to carry Java. He said Microsoft had "leveraged its PC monopoly to create market conditions in which it is unfairly advantaged."

"It is an absolute certainty that unless a preliminary injunction is entered, Sun will have lost forever its right to compete, and the opportunity to prevail, in a market undistorted by its competitors' antitrust violations," Motz wrote in his decision.

Hating Microsoft is practically a religion, so it isnt't surprising that hardcore geeks at Slashdot are crowing about the decision[1]. The story has even been classified under the Your Rights Online (YRO) section, implying that this is a great victory for freedom (as in liberty).

However, if you look at the history of the litigation between Sun and Microsoft regarding Java, it's clear that Sun is not putting any faith in the free market or their product - they are using the courts to compete. Sun originally developed Java specifically to try and wrest market share for application development away from Microsoft's Windows platform. The idea was that you could write Java applications using any operating System (like Sun's Solaris, or Mac OS) which would then run on any other operating system (ie, Windows).

The reason Microsoft was dominant was because of the network effect - a positive feedback cycle where Windows became more and more attractive to developers as more users used it, so there were more apps written for Windows, which drove more users towards Windows, etc. Repeat.)[2]

So Sun needed Microsoft to include Java in Windows, and the two companies signed a license agreement. But Microsoft was by far the more ingenious - they built extensions into Java that were useless outside of Windows, but which allowed Java apps written expressly for Windows to be substantially faster and improved. It's not difficult to see why this infuriated Sun, nor why it delighted Windows users and developers.

Though these proprietary changes were expressly allowed under the terms of the licensing agreement, Sun revoked teh license and sued Microsoft to stop include their customized Java in Windows. Microsoft complied, and Sun victory. Then Microsoft announced that they weren't going to include Java in the upcoming Windows XP release, and Sun was back at square one. So now, Sun sues Microsoft to put Java back in!

Keep in mind that Java is available for free, from Sun's website, and works perfectly well with Windows. Microsoft has not disabled or interfered in Sun's Java in any way. What we have, then, is Sun begging Microsoft to include Java, then yanking it away, then forcing it back! All of this is purely symbolic and has nothing to do with Microsoft being a monopoly. Sun is simply using the courts to try and succeed rather than the market, using litigation to advance their product rather than letting it stand on its own merits. And part of the crusade is personal, driven by Scott McNealy's pathological hatred of Bill Gates. McNealy's attempts to demonize Gates are laughable - especially considering how Bill Gates spends his money.

It won't work. Java has been displaced by .NET which by all accounts from people who actually use it, is superior in every way as a development environment. And Java doesn't have much advantage on websites, either, with the rise of Flash by Macromedia (and which Microsoft is also looking to acquire. Checkmate.)

For excellent background reading and in-depth history of the Sun-Microsoft fracas over Java, I recommend Steven Den Beste's coverage of the affair - starting here, continuing here, and lastly here. It will be interesting to see what Steven has to say about the current court ruling.

UPDATE: RJH disagrees, saying that the court order was a good thing (permalinks broken, scroll down). His explanantion is very detailed, and much more knowledgeable about prior cases and precedent, but I don't agree with him. He equates suppor of Microsoft's position in this *specific* ruling as equivalent to believing that "The pro-Microsoft case would argue that ISP, Internet, long distance, cellular, and local telephone service should all be provided by TPC. There should be no alternative vendors or competition in any of these markets." That's absurd. My main position is that Micrsoft shoudl not be forced to include a competitor's product in the distribution of their product, especially since (1) that competitor's product is readily available for free from the competitor, and (2) the competitor (Sun) has a history of using the courts ather than the markets to compete.

[1]Every kharmawhore with a "this rulez!" post has been modded up to +5/Insightful.

[2]Note that critics of Microsoft often argue that Microsoft's market advantage was achieved by using Embrace and Extend (and Extinguish) (EEE) tactics. First of all, such tactics are not illegal, they are legitimate strategies in a fiercely competitive market. But it's purely delusional to think that Sun or Apple would not have used the same tactice if their positions were reversed. In fact, EEE is only possible AFTER you have achieved and benefited from the network effect - if this were not the case, then Apple and Sun woudl be able to use EEE to grow their own market share. So, assuming that Microsoft's hegemony is the result of EEE tactics is a causal fallacy. And if you think EEE is somehow unfair, consider that it's nowhere near as ruthless as the tactics employed by other companies - such as IBM.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Christmas 2002: everywhere but Bethlehem

There is no small measure of irony in the fact that celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem is subject of controversy. Then again, it probably isn't much of a surprise, either. The IDF occupation of Bethlehem has made it far from clear-cut:

HOW SHOULD Christians celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem this year? Since Nov. 22, the city and its surroundings have been under a crippling 24-hour curfew that has only been relaxed for a couple of days during the entire period. Opinions vary from those calling for a total boycott of all festivities, including the traditional Latin patriarch's parade on Christmas Eve to those who insist that life and celebrations must go on in spite of the Israeli actions.


A third option is also being circulated. It calls for the public to celebrate the holidays but attempt to use them to demonstrate the displeasure of the Palestinians at continued Israeli oppressive measures. They want the world to know how they feel by wearing black shirts or decorating Christmas trees with empty bomb shells and other symbols of the Israeli army's brutal anti-Palestinian policies. Some non-violent activists are calling on Palestinians to go out in the streets with olive branches and black flags as a proactive participation in showing the world that Palestinians reject the continued Israeli

occupation and oppression of their country.

There certainly is a sympathy paradox operating here. Palestinians are accustomed to being told they bring their woes upon themselves. But the intertwined identity of the general Palestinian populace as Muslims means that Palestinian Christians are left twisting in the wind. Still, whatever their religion, Palestinaisn are united in their political opposition to the Israeili occupation. Also worth reading is this first-person account of how the radio station in Bethlehem, which for the past seven years has provided live coverage of the festivities, has also been shut down by IDF fiat:

Danny Qumsieh has been working hard this Christmas season to raise money so that Bethlehem's only local radio station can continue in its tradition of covering the holiday events. As manager of the radio station he was frustrated that he was unable to find commercial sponsors because of the devastating economic situation due to the Israeli reoccupation of the city.... Just when he felt confident that the station will be able to go ahead with the coverage, an unexpected turn of events occurred. Israeli soldiers decided on December 23 to take over the building housing the station. The staff of the radio station and the entire building was evacuated and the station had to go off the air.

For seven years now, Radio Bethlehem 2000 has provided live audio coverage of the traditional Christmas Eve parade, Christmas Eve Carols from Manger Square and Midnight Mass from the birth-place of Jesus Christ. I should know. I was there when we first started this radio tradition in the Christmas of 1996.


A few days before Christmas, Israel announced that it was planning to ease the curfew and other travel restrictions to allow Bethlehem's Palestinian Christians to celebrate the Christmas. The radio station was beaming carols and announcing Christmas related events when this ugly act took place.

Monday, December 23, 2002

how media bias filters perception - II

Continuing the debate - Brian writes:

... I'm not about to tolerate my tax money being used to fund positively-biased proselytizing films for those religions, to be shown on PBS right in the middle of a period when we're trying to find solace in our cherished traditions while so much of the world we grew up with changes right out from under us. Now's a time when we need the facts, and the other facts that back them up-- not propaganda designed to be divisive and to further an agenda which is profoundly counter to the spirit upon which this country was founded.

This strikes me as quintessentially anti-American. What kind of PC nonsense is it to say that Christmas is a "special cultural time" that is somehow defiled by the mere presence of Islam? Apparently, I missed how vulnerable the holiday was to desecration while being distracted by the Mercedes Benz commercial using "Silent Night" as its jingle, the Coca Cola Corporation-designed Official Mascot of the holiday on every street corner (draped in the corporate colors), and the season-coordinated plotlines across all sitcoms of every major network.

People observing Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Eid have more spirituality and culture associated with this time of year than people whose entire concept of Christmas is "drape the house with lights, put the Bing Crosby CD in the 5 disc changer, and go on a shopping spree!". Perhaps we should go after the Jews and the Blacks for daring to desecrate this Holy Commemoration of Commercialism with their unseemly displays of alien religion and cultures also?

And as for it being on PBS, that is PBS's job. It BELONGS on PBS. If someone has a problem with it, thats their prerogative, they don't have to phone in funds during the telethon. But whininng about tax dollars is as ignorant as it is asinine, because most of PBS's funding comes from viewers and corporate donors. Of the 171 member stations, 88 are community organizations, 56 are colleges/universities, 20 are state authorities and 7 are local educational or municipal authorities. Leading sources of revenue: members (23.5%); state governments (18.3%); CPB & federal grants/contracts (16.4%); businesses (16.1%); state colleges and universities (6.5%); and foundations (5.5%). It's not just liberals tuning in, either - 73.2% of all American television-owning families watch public television, averaging 8 hours a month.

AND - PBS overall does more to raise the level of debate and awareness and tolerance - all essential to our democracy - than the rest of television combined, so your "tax dollars" (negligible!!) are being put to the highest possible SNR use than they do anywhere else in government.

Brian's assertion that this PBS documentary is prosletization is simply absurd. I can't even stomach responding to that charge any further, especially is he hasn't even seen the documenttary, only bothered to read about it from Islam-haters or polemicists like Pipes. Brian, watch the damn documentary yourself and then tell me if its prosletizing or not.

And how in God's name does the documentary threaten Brian's ability to "find solace in our cherished traditions" ?? Will Brian be putting a star on his Christmas tree and sudddenly little Cousin Johnny turns on PBS, sees a muezzin, and is suddenly compelled to burn the tree down? Likewise, from whence the charge that the documentary is "divisive" ?? Perhaps all those subversive Muslims should wear the cross during the holiday season as a show of solidarity? (memo to Kwanzaa displays and Menorahs: you're next).

Christmas is a holiday that transcends religion -its a universal theme of inclusion, tolerance, and hope. I find the airing of PBS's documentary on Muhamad SAW to be appropriate. And I reject any argument that it is "insensitive" or otherwise innapropriate to be nothing morethan politically-correct fearful paranoia.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Happy 1st Birthday to TKL Blog

Suman Palit's blog, The Kolkata Libertarian, is one year old!

TKL is getting less of Suman's attention recently, since he has started blogging over at Gene Expression and several other blogs. However, TKL blog's focus on the subcontinent has been comprehensive and stimulating over the past year and I hope he still finds time to devote to it.

Where Suman and I agree and disagree is not very surprising. He and I are both Inndian, so we tend to have a pro-India bias. I am Muslim, he is not, so we tend to have opposite views on Muslims. Suman and I are both anti-BJP, but I am more pro-Pakistan than he is (though I am not nearly as pro-Pakistan as Zachary Latif!). Overall, Suman's opinion is the first I look for on issues of interest to the sub-continent, and I look forward to another year of his bloggage. :)

Saturday, December 21, 2002

how media bias filters perception

My friend Brian Tiemann is upset that his tax dollars are being used to document the life of the Prophet SAW. He is referring to PBS's series, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet. There is a hysteric tinge to his post, which strikes me as out of character given his usually well-reasoned arguments about how PC's suck and Macs rule (usually written to counter arguments that Apple sucks and Microsoft rules).

Brian breathlessly quotes Daniel Pipe's critique of the documentary, which can basically be summed up as follows: [1] the documentary is "airbrushed and uncritical", [2] it ignores "scholarly" evidence that the dcetails of Muhamad's life are in dispute, even down to century and geographical region (!), and [3] that this documentary amounts to taxpayer-funded prosletyzing.

You can also read these three points as code: [1] The horrible evil of Islam and the Prophet SAW are so obvious that any characterization that doesn't outright condemn the faith is clearly a biased propaganda effort, perpetrated by the vast Muslim conspiracy. [2] The Petulant Fairness Principle demands that since some mean old researchers are investigating Jesus, then the history of Muhamad SAW is clearly false. [3] PBS documentaries are well-known to serve as prosletization vehicles (massive drain on the taxcuts-for-the-rich-depleted coffers that they are)

In response to [1], I think there is an expectation that since some of Islam's followers have done such horrible things, that there must be a corresponding taint on the image of the founder of the faith to explain it. The simple truth is that Muhamad's SAW life was devoted to establishing Islam, in the face of such implacable persecution (by pagan Arabs, and also by some local tribes of Jews) that it consumed him. I will be the first to stand up and accuse the suceeding Caliphates and dynasties (especially the Ummaiyads) of ignominy, but those accusations are well-recorded by Islamic sources and not airbrushed either. I find the selective cynicism of critics of Islam (such as Brian) to be founded more in reactionary fear rather than any rational assessment of history.

This leads into my response to point [2]. There is a 600 year gap between Jesus and Muhammad, and history degrades exponentially as you go farther back in time. Jesus lived centuries before the Bible was published, whereas Muhamad SAW was the vehicle of the Qur'an himself. The Qur'an existed as physical text within a few decades of Muhamad's SAW death, well within the lifetimes of his closest companions and the general memory of the populace and followers.[1]

Finally, point [3] is the most rife with hypocrisy. To imagine that a PBS documentary amounts to prosletization is absurd, even inane. PBS has given comprehensive and equally laudatory treatment to other major faiths (including Judaism and Christianity). The minor dissent referred to by Pipes[2] was a very minor part of the documentary about Christianity - but this doesn't stop biased people from applying different sets of standards.

Finally, Brian injects his own misconceptions to the debate by claiming that Islam is becoming counter culture, and that the PBS documentary will validate that:

The disaffected youth of today crave a non-American role model. They sneer when they see the Stars and Stripes on TV, even (and sometimes especially) after 9/11. It's cool to be non-American, even anti-American. Why watch Disney movies when you can take that beginning Japanese 101 for Anime-Watching course and pepper your speech with kawaii and gaijin and otaku? Why eat at McDonald's when you can eat take-out Thai? Why go to church with your clueless parents when you can go to a mosque?

...for someone wishing to make his fiery teenaged mark on the world, perhaps the most rebellious and self-righteous and purposefully inscrutable thing he can do-- the thing most surely guaranteed to piss off his parents, far more so than listening to Eminem or smoking-- would be to cheer 9/11 and/or convert to Islam.

Part of this bizarre viewpoint is driven by Brian's subscription to the Ar-Rahman Yahoo group which is partly populated by vocal muslim youth and hotheads of the kind that, were they Jewish, would be ideal recruitment fodder for the Jewish Defense League. Despite long conversations with Brian via email, his viewpoint of Islam is still that it is an extremist faith, with occassional outliers like myself, and that the religion is intrinsically opposed to the American way of life. As long as he self-filters his information about Islam through Ar Rahman one one hand and Daniel Pipes on the other, I'm afraid that paranoid conspiracy theories like "Islam is stealing our youth!" will persist.

Brian finishes his rant thusly:

... I'm not about to tolerate my tax money being used to fund positively-biased proselytizing films for those religions, to be shown on PBS right in the middle of a period when we're trying to find solace in our cherished traditions while so much of the world we grew up with changes right out from under us. Now's a time when we need the facts, and the other facts that back them up-- not propaganda designed to be divisive and to further an agenda which is profoundly counter to the spirit upon which this country was founded.

I'll address this point in a subsequent post.

Brian's vision of Islam is not extreme, nor is his reaction out of the ordinary. The simple truth is, that our faith will be held to a different standard than Christianity or Judaism or atheism. The fact is that any attempt at bringing information about Islam to light that doesn't fit with this dark portrayal will automatically be dismissed as "propaganda".

And the existence of "moderate" muslims is irrelevant. This is why we, as "moderate" muslims, shoudl stop wasting our time. The battle is long lost. There isn't any point in even engaging Brian in debate, because no matter how many pages of text you write, no matter how much progress you make, no matter how many clever analogies and subtle points you are able to invoke, the debate is already lost.

UPDATE: Bill Allison comments with a very helpful analogy to the whole issue:

I remember the controversy that ensued when the University of North Carolina, I think it was, decided to require its incoming freshmen to read Michael Sells' work, Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations. Now, for what it is worth, I am generally opposed to specific requirements at the university level. ... So for me, the issue wasn't so much Sells' book, but the whole idea of telling students they had to read a particular book.

That said, I've been reading Sells' book, and so far have found it an engaging scholarly work well worth reading, if this sort of thing is one's cup of tea. It addresses, among other things, the limitations of translation -- certainly a theme that is of importance to anyone studying at the university level. I defer to those who know Arabic to assess Sells' own translations, but the commentaries he provides on the Suras he translates are quite helpful in understanding the their meaning and context.

I recall that, at the time of the UNC controversy, the work was criticized for translating only the early Suras, and ignoring the rest of the Qur'an (for the critics, this meant that Sells was whitewashing the Qur'an, and, by extension, Islam, and leaving out all the "awful" stuff). Yet the book was first published in 1999, and it's reasonable to ask why the critics imagine Sells, who's quite clear in his introduction on what he chose to translate and why, would be trying to whitewash anything. Just as it's reasonable to ask why a documentary aiming to show what Muslims believe about the Prophet (the transcript says, "This is the story that Muslims have passed down from generation to generation for 1400 years") should also contain, say, what Zen Buddhists believe about the Prophet.

[1] Let me also point out that many people of European descent tend to underestimate the fidelity of oral traditions compared to written texts. And we haven't even gone into how translations have affected the Bible (to which the Qur'an written in the original Arabic is immune).

[2] Brian's reliance on Pipes compounds his error. Pipes has built a reputation as an "honest" commentator on Islam, mainly by virtue of dishonest tactics. Ismail Royer has a pair of posts that I think well-illustrate by use of an example that Pipes is an unreliable commentator at best (to put it somewhat charitably).

Friday, December 20, 2002

"real" muslims

I know I have promised the finale to my silence of the media series for some weeks now, but the real world has concpired against me. I appreciate everyone's patience :) I will probably unveil the post in between Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Just as a preview, though, this email I received today is part of the problem that Muslims face. Says Mr Mohamed Mujeeb Ur-Rahman:

May Allah SWT bring all the bohras (who love to be identified as bohras more than being identified n called as Muslims) back to the real deen-e-islam. May Allah SWT save the ummah from the fitnahs and guide all Muslim to follow Quran n Sunnah. Amin.

Mr Mujeeb Rahman's concern for my welfare is touching, but if I ever have any doubt about my adherence to the true Deen e Islam, I regret to say that I won't be contacting Mr Mujeeb Rahman for advice. I'm not interested in replying to him, but I can certainly recomend Mullahs on the Mainframe to him on the off chance that his provincial mind is not fully welded shut.

But the occassional zealot online is not the only problem. Even fairly well-read and intellectual Muslim writers such as Ismail Royer (whose work in the A True Word magazine and whose essays on his personal blog, such as the one on Victimhood, are truly outstanding) also feel the need to judge other Muslims - this kind of holier-than-thou ness is not equal to, but not all that different from, the fanaticism of the Wahabis. It's a matter of degree.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Tolkien: mythology, not allegory

With Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (TTT) now in theaters, there is a resurgence of opinion and analysis relating TTT to events in the real world. This would have pleased Professor Tolkien.

Tolkien's original vision was to create a mythology for England, which by quirk of history had none remaining. Even the Legend of King Arthur was a repackaging of French, Germanic, and pagan myths (and Legend is NOT Myth!). After the Norman Invasion in 1066 by William the Conqueror, whatever native mythology that the British Isles may have had was seemingly obsoleted by the infusion of new memes from the continental mainland, and the resulting cultural vacuum persisted for a thousand years, waiting for Tolkien to fill.

It is important to keep the definition of mythology in mind :

mythology : A body or collection of myths belonging to a people and addressing their origin, history, deities, ancestors, and heroes.

The boundary between history and mythology is diffuse - shrouded by time. These concepts exist at two ends of the same (temporal) axis. As such, the old axiom that "those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it" also applies to mythology, because mythology has been filtered by time so that the central lessons - the themes - are dominant even as the details are blurred out.[1]

However, there is a concrete difference between mythology and allegory. Tolkien was aghast at the idea that LOTR could be allegorical, and argued strenously against interpreting his work as such, in the Foreword which appears in every copy[2]:

As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical.


But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.

I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

The essence of allegory is a homomorphism - a one-to-one mapping. The Ring is nuclear power. Sauron is Hitler. Hobbits are the English. Aragorn is Churchill. The disdain that Tolkien had for this kind of decimation of themes to mere analogy is clear in the Foreword, because it takes something timeless and forces it into a very limited temporal window. This destroys the lessons and utility of the themes themselves.

The true themes of LOTR, which are applicable to any time, are these, to name just a few: We are our own worst enemy. Evil within must be defeated before the evil without. Death. The simple heroism of ordinary people. The Pandora's box of technology. The necessity of wisdom. The vulnerability of the wise. LOTR is suffused with powerful lessons that speak to the very core of the forces driving history in the Age of Man. This is why LOTR is timeless and will continue to be applicable, in its own unique way, to every unique reader.

Addendum - I cannot endorse the book, The Tolkien Reader, strongly enough to anyone interested in themes and mythology and the use to which Tolkien put them. This book has the essay, On Fairie Stories, which expands upon Tolkien's philosophy of mythology and his entire concept of "sub-creation", and the short story Leaf by Niggle, which is a demonstration of same. I have also previously reviewed the Extended Edition DVD of Fellowship of the Ring, which has a nice biography on Tokien and discussion of the context of his work. The DVD gives valuable insight into the care with which Peter Jackson strove to preserve the thematic lessons even as he was forced to make changes in plot which were required to translate the book to film. Finally, for those wishing to explore the richness of Tolkien's mythology even deeper, The Silmarillion is required reading - it is the vast submerged iceberg upon which the entire epic that is Lord of the Rings rests, a tiny outcropping.

Frodo Lives!

[1] That Tolkien was able to construct a mythology out of whole cloth that still retained its power of thematic applicability, without requiring the actual millenia to filter out the themes from the details, is a testament to his genius. LOTR remains as powerfully timeless and applicable as it was when it was first written, whether it be the Great War, WWII, or even the War on Terror.

[2]Tolkien also points out that his concepts for LOTR predated the Second World War, and notes that had the War of the Ring been truly inspired by WWII, the Ring would not have been destroyed but rather used against Sauron to defeat, enslave, and ultimately replace him.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002


I have been a bit out of the loop recently, juggling Baby, grad school, and Fellowship of the Ring, so I wasn't aware until just now that this blog was nominated for two categories in the Koufax Awards promoted by Dwight Meredith of PLA.

I'd like to thank all my readers who nominated UNMEDIA for Best Post and Best Blog. Alas that I did not qualify for Best Writing! :)

The reason I write this blog is as an intellectual outlet. I have always been amazed that people read, and email me and leave comments, in response to what seem to me to be disoriented and random observations rattling around in my brain. It means a great deal to me that people respect what I have to say. I see that as a challenge, and I will continue to the best of my ability.

Again, thanks everyone, this was a very nice way to start the morning and great motivation to keep at it.

Monday, December 16, 2002

DVD review: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition)

I do not own a DVD player. Given that The Fellowship of the Ring was the best movie experience I have had since The Empire Strikes Back, I was not about to let that detail stop me from acquiring it. Given that DVDs of most films contain multiple versions such as the �director�s cut� in addition to the theatrical release, many reviewers and fans dismissed FOTR: Extended Edition as a marketing gimmick. In fact, for any other movie, it would have been. But not for Lord of the Rings[1].

In fact, director Peter Jackson shies away from the term �director�s cut�, insisting that the theatrical version is one and the same (after all, the director should take ultimate responsibility for the final product). Jackson calls the Extended version �an alternate version of the film� � since it is targeted at a different audience:

...rather than simply inserting deleted scenes, Jackson aproached this Extended Edition as if he were creating a whole new version of the film. He and the editor, John Gilbert, carefully evaluated material to be integrated into the film, and then worked to bring each scene up to the same polish as the rest of the feature - visual effects were completed, dialouge was recorded, and sound effects were created. To make sure all of the scenes flowed, Howard Shore composed and recorded new score with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The results is a seamless integration of the new material into the film, giving the Extended Edition an integrity of its own. This Extended version is for the fans, who have read and re-read the books, who have revered them and been inspired by them. The theatrical version is not even present on the Extended version, to underscore the point that this is a different movie than what you saw in the theaters.

This is not to say that the DVD of the theatrical version is not true to the book, or any less worthy of Tolkien�s vision. In one of the interviews on disc 3, Jackson discusses the editorial difficulties in translating from novel to screenplay, from screenplay to raw footage, and finally from footage to final product. For the theatrical release, the main rationale for cutting/keeping scenes was to make the movie �Frodo-centric� � each scene had to move the central plot of Frodo as Ring Bearer forward[2]. The result is a tightly woven film despite its nearly 3-hour running time.

So what then, exactly, is the Extended Edition? For starters, it is longer - MUCH longer - over 30 minutes of new footage and music, bringing the total to over 200 minutes. The new scenes are (to borrow Jackson�s own analogy) additional layers over the core, adding richness and depth to Middle Earth and the characters. Important but slow scenes such as Galadriel�s gift-giving in Lothlorien[3] are restored, which will only be referred to in the theatrical sequels via flashback or dialogue. A scene where the Hobbits observe Elves leaving Middle Earth is included, which emphasizes the poignancy that suffuses the ending of the age of the Elves. No matter who wins the war of the Ring, Middle Earth will be changed forever. Relationships between characters are fleshed out in more detail, including the Hobbits cavorting in a tavern in the Shire, and additional exploration of Aragorn and Arwen�s relationship, hinting at the tragic sacrifice they have to make to be together. �Beauty shot� footage of the varied landscapes and architecture in Middle Earth are included, such as a leisurely tour in the Shire, emphasizing its idyllic nature. And trivial but favorite scenes such as the Midgewater Marshes are included solely to delight fans looking for the narrative landmarks that they desire as proof of authenticity and faithfulness.

The extra material adds orders of magnitude more complexity to the sub-Creation that is Middle Earth, but at the expense of momentum. It is designed to resonate strongly with fans, but would be mostly extraneous from the perspective of the average moviegoer. That said, anyone who was entranced enough by Middle Earth to almost wish it truly was the lost history of a long-vanished age of our own world[4], will find this Extended version well worth the expense.

The additional 30 minutes of footage would not normally require an extra disc, but the Extended version has a much higher quality digital signal than would be possible with including all the feature footage on one disc. There are multiple digital sound channels, including DTS and 5.1. With a HDTV, a progressive scan DVD player, and a Dolby sound setup, this DVD would be immersive to the point of disorientation.

But there is much, much more to this edition.

Discs 1 and 2 also contain four feature-length commentarie by the cast, director and writers, and production and design teams. Consider that this amounts to 12 hours of comentary - there is so much information that trying to summarize it for a review is essentially impossible. They lend a real sense of intimacy to the movie that carries over to normal viewing, like extra layers of appreciation and understanding in your mind.

Discs 3 and 4 are packed with supplemental information that give a true sense of just how epic was the conception and making of this film (actually, three). There are storyboards, animatics, stills, interactive maps, and photo galleries. But even better are the documentaries, which are numerous, lengthy and detailed. Some are devoted to production issues like scale (just how did they make those Hobbits so small?) and use of �bigatures� (enormous miniature-scale sets like Rivendell and Orthanc). But the most engaging ones are the ones devoted to the cast.

The shining star of these is on Disc 4, titled �The Fellowship of the Cast� and which really gave a feel for just how close-knit the cast became over the course of 18 months of filming in New Zealand. It�s captivating to hear Sean Astin describe how life imitated art, in that he would up being caretaker of Elijah Wood (who was prone to locking himself out of his apartment). Elijah Wood impishly describes Viggo Mortenson as �slightly mental� and recreates Ian McKellan�s roar of protest at the loud music that he would play in their shared trailer. Liv Tyler wistfully notes her homesickness, how she bummed rides off Orlando Bloom because she was scared to drive on the wrong side of the road, and makes innocent references to �dad�. Ian McKellan is ever the professional, with praise for Hugo Weaving (Elrond) and Ian Holm (Bilbo) as veteran brothers of the stage, and noting that he had always underestimated Christopher Lee because of the �quality of most of his work� � with a twinkle in his eye. And Dominic Monaghan�s impersonation of John Rhys-Davies ordering a feast of lobster, grouse and wild boar is tear-wiping hilarious. The interviews in this segment, and the accompanying documentary titled �A Day in the Life of a Hobbit� which traces the four from early morning putting on the feet, all the way to the late night and taking off the feet, are as engrossing as the movie itself.

Middle Earth was conceived in the trenches of World War I, and was intended by Tolkien to be a replacement mythology for England. He vehemently rejected the idea that it was allegorical, which if true would have severely limited its scope. The universal themes of the book - which made it so timeless - are masterfully translated to film by Jackson, who was so fcused on preserving Tolkien's vision that the words "A Peter Jackson film" do not even appear in the opening credits. This is Tolkien's world, and Jackson proudly says that it is Tolkien's film. What this DVD does is bring that world home. But there is a world as rich as Middle Earth glimpsed on this DVD � a world that Peter Jackson deserves ultimate accolades for bringing into existence. That world is the adventure and epic saga of making this film itself. It will always exist on film, even though the sets are long gone. It deserves a place on my shelf, and if you love The Lord of the Rings, it deserves a place on yours.

[1] The marketing gimmick for FOTR is actually the Super Happy Deluxe Mega Fun Collector�s Edition. For the extra money you get a 5th DVD disc containing a documentary special about the geology of New Zealand, and a pair of Argonath bookends. I cannot in conscience recommend this to anyone, not even die-hard fans such as myself, except perhaps for those with far too much disposable income, or similarly disposable priorities.

UPDATE: I was mistaken. My old friend Chris points out that there are good reasons for buying the MegaFunDeluxe version:

I purchased the "Super Happy Deluxe Mega Fun Collector�s Edition" mainly for the 3 exclusive LotR TCG Cards (which you can sell if you want), but the bookends are really cool as well. The National Geographic DVD is still in its original shrinkwrap.

I've deliberately weaned myself from trading card collectibles, but I certainly can see the appeal.

[2] Of course there were some scenes that simply had to be left in for continuity to the sequels, despite being tangentially if at all related to Frodo, such as the scenes between Gandalf and Saruman, and the Arwen-Aragorn love story.

[3] I�m not even going to make an attempt at proper spelling with diacritical marks of Eldarin or Sindarin!

[4] The difference between Tolkien and the typical �fantasy� fiction with dragons, elves, and wizards, is that Middle Earth is designed to be a mythology, not fantasy. The difference is subtle, and crucial.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

lock your doors!

Can someone explain to me why there is so much romantization about the era of "when no one locked their doors" - as if this was a good thing? It seems to me that unlocked doors invite crime. Maybe if doors had been locked back in the 50's the barrier to violent crime would have been higher (literally). Should we romanticize the good old days when airport cockpit doors were unlocked?

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Religion, not Culture, of Peace

The question remains. Is Islam a Religion of Peace? The social, cultural, and political entity is not, by simple fact that counterexamples to peaceful muslims, namely, violent muslims, do exist. QED. But what about the religion itself?

I think I answered this question in an earlier post, actually:

True Islam - even if mis-practiced by a billion Wahabi fanatics, is eternal. It cannot be suppressed. As long as a single Muslim like myself practices it in accordance with the original teachings of the Prophet, it cannot be extinguished from this world. As a Muslim, it's not my place to worry about how Islam is perceived by you. It's to worry about how Islam is practiced by me.

The peaceful message of Islam the Religion itself is clear, apparent even from the crudest translations. Those who espouse a violent interpretation are in violation of the clearest possible aspect of the religion - the Qur'an - and this is why you will never see such a craven dog as Osamam bin Laden even acknowledge the existence of ayats 2:256, 109:6 5:32-33, 2:190, 5:61, and the full version of 4:91.

To argue that Islam has a religious message of intolerance and violence, and that violent interpretations are as valid as non-violent ones, is a complete slander. An anlogy would be to infer from a selective reading of the US Constitution that the Self-Evident Truths mentioned in the Declaration applied only to white males, or that there was no right to free speech, press, or separation of church and state. By ignoring parts of the Constitution, certain people can always invoke other parts of it to justify actions drastically at odds with the intent of the document.

But should Muslims go around parroting the phrase "Religion of Peace" ? No. It's a useless and meaningless excercise. If you believe in the Qur'an, live by its teachings, and leave the opinion making to the opinion makers.


Hey froods, just try to wrap your brain round this one: Israel joining the EU? Unlikely, but Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that Israel was indeed interested. The Foreign Ministry subsequently withdrew the statement of interest, but it certainly set wheels turning. The Ha'aretz article notes that Israel would need to make some serious changes in order to qualify:

The truth is that along with realization of a dream of "joining Europe," membership in the EU could also incur what Israel might consider a very steep price. Israel would have to nullify the Law of Return - EU legislation stipulates that all citizens living within its boundaries are free to settle and work without restriction in all of its member states - and all of the laws that discriminate favorably toward Jews. Israel would be required to unilaterally adopt all sections of the European legislation, and the European Convention of Human Rights. In so doing, it would all at once become a "state of all its citizens."

Israel would also be required to make a series of structural changes to its economy, to comply with the rigid criteria of the Maastricht Treaty. Joining the European Monetary Union - another prerequisite for joining the EU - would place it in a pillory of fiscal and monetary constraints over which it has nearly no control or maneuverability, such as the determination of interest rates (an authority now given to the European Central Bank). Additionally, Israel would be required to make harsh concessions in its defense and trade agreements with the U.S.

which already make it seem less than likely that the idea will ever wash. Israel is the only country in the world more concerned with its sovereignity than the United States, and joining the EU seems to carry with it commitments that Israel is ideologically incapable of making. But the ultimate reason that Israel seems a poor match has more to do with the basic concept of what the EU is and the basic concept of what Israel is. As the Ha'aretz article succinctly puts it:

The September 11 terrorist attacks reignited the argument over whether the EU is a members-only club of Christian countries that provides a barricade to the spread of Islam, or a supra-national framework that sanctifies freedom and rights of the individual. Israel does not naturally conform with either of these models.

However, I think the idea of Israel in the EU is not any more bizarre than the fact that Britain already IS a member. There's a compelling argument that the UK should not be in the EU - in fact, a far more compelling case can be made for the UK joining NAFTA :

First, the U.S. is already deeply enmeshed commercially with Britain; further trade liberalization would result in immediate and significant benefits for the American economy. Over the last 10 years UK net direct investment in North America has been greater than double its investment in the EU. Direct net investment in the UK from the U.S. and Canada has been 1.5 times the figure of total EU investment in Britain. In 1997 British direct investment in the U.S. was $18.3 billion, greater than any other country's, and 30 percent of the total of all foreign direct investment in the U.S. America invested more in Britain than anywhere else--$22.4 billion, or 20 percent of the total of all U.S. foreign direct investment. Also, Sterling has tended to be more in line with the dollar than with the D-mark and the other European currencies. This greatly affects interest-rate harmonization, leading to the inescapable conclusion that the American and British economies are more in-sync with one another than either is with the economic powers on the Continent.

There is also a much more comprehensive analysis of the same issue at the Action Centre for Europe website, in an exhaustive piece titled, "Fog over the Atlantic: Britain and the NAFTA Option" (with a Foreword written by John Major). And in fact Britain may well repudiating its membership by letting its membership lapse (I recall seeing a story about this but can't find the link).

Monday, December 9, 2002

Wahabism IS the Reformation ?

One of the clearest voices in my coments section is that of Ikram Saeed. He posted this excellent comment in a post below which I felt needed a wider airing.

Ikram writes:

Wahbism _is_ the reformation. Traditional Sunni Islam has four Madhabs (schools of thought), and the interpretation of religion is only permitted by religious scholars in that Madhab. To become a scholar requires many years of work, and an understanding of some 1400 years of religious thought and commentary. Traditional Sunni-ism is somewhat centralized and "Catholic" (though not nearly as mush as Shi'ism -- "the fifth madhab?").

Wahabis smash this hierarchy, and go extreme "protestant" They argue that the 1400 years of interpretation has clouded and distorted the original message of the Prophet. Muslims need to go back to the fundamentals, to Islam the way it was practiced at the time of the prophet. Each Muslim should read the Quran, and particularly the Hadiths, and reach his own, correct, understanding.

It so happens that Wahabis believe the correct understanding is one that, by the standards of America's relaxed morality, is reactionary and repressive. Religious authority is being decentralized among hatemongers and fanatics.

And, for Christians who know their own religious history, this shouldn't be surprising. Calvin was an intolerant religious bigot. And Luther has long been accused of being a grade 'A' anti-semite. Both Luther and Calvin launched Europe into 300 years of religious warfare (that still continues in N.Ireland).

300 years of religious warfare -- is that the reformation Den Beste wants?


The Christian Reformation occurred as a reaction to corruption in the catholic church, not as a reaction to strict morals. If anthing, teetotalling moralistic protestants were more violent and more strict than Catholics. Similarly, Wahabis are more strict than "Madhabis" to coin a term.

Ikraam also has some important observations on Wahabism (and its detractors within Islam) in a second comment in the same thread. Take a look for yourself, in the comments section on this post.

UPDATE: Al-Munaqabah also has posted a comment, distinguising between a Renaissaance and a Reformation. I like this distinction, but I hope Bill or someone equally qualified can comment on it.

If you want the Muslim world to discover the virtues of secular humanism, then what you want is an Islamic RENAISSANCE. If you want the Muslim world to go through convulsions of violence and war as it struggles within itself to define the proper practice of the religion, you want an Islamic REFORMATION.

I strongly feel that there is no Reformation needed, but another (not a) Rennaisannce would be a good thing.

UPDATE2: Bill Allison has commented! In a length post he lays out his case for why he disagrees with Ikram. Rather thanb excerpt him, I urge everyone to read it in full, as the argument is typically subtle and insightful. It motivated me to add a question mark to the post title :) I hope it will generate healthy debate in the comments section, which is now directly linked from the sidebar.

judgement by deeds

Steven Den Beste thinks that I think that Islam, as a social, political, and cultural entity, is immune to the actions of its extreme fringe. He points to the phrase "Religion of Peace" as an example of this "wishing-it-away" syndrome and raises the repeptition of the sarcastic "Religion of PeaceTM" moniker at LGF[1] as a valid countering ploy.

The problem is, I have never used the phrase Religion of Peace[2]. In fact, I find the extensive use of that stock phrase to be precisely the kind of PR sinkhole that I have been stridently advocating against in my silence of the media series.

Steven is right when he says in his recent post that:

It assumes there's a single Islam. It assumes that that single religion is actually peaceful. In reality, different forms of Islam are to a greater or lesser extent warlike and violent. Some are indeed peaceful. Some are intensely hostile and violent.

But then why has he been consistently treating Islam as precisely such a monolithic entity? He says in a preceding post:

I've been wondering for a while, and have sometimes voiced the possibility, that indeed one way for this war to end is for us to shatter Islam itself; not Islamism or pan-Arabism, but Islam outright.

I addressed the problem with his Catholic-Protestant analogy in detail. What he wants is to create a Neo-Islam, one that has zero possible violent interpretations[3]. But the Protestant analogy of a "Islam as a personal faith, interpreted as the result of individual study and thought" is exactly the situation that caused Wahabism to flourish. Few Christians, even Protestants, tend to their religion as a careful construct in individual thought. Most simply subscribe to a aggregator - a denomination - and rely on that framework for their guidance. This is human nature, though perhaps since Steven has spent so much time analyzing his own self-philosophy he is unaware that he is an exception.

My own faith, the Bohra Ismaili Shi'a variant of Islam, has a very rationalistic ethos which is very akin to Steven's call for self-analysis and personal understanding. But it also takes the preference of most people for a guiding franework into account. But the theology of my sect is not really relevant, as Steven noted. We aren't talking about Bohras, we are talking about Islam as a collective sum, an integration over the limit of all Muslims.

The reason I introduced historical evidence of tolerant Islamic societies throughout history was to counter this specific SDB claim:

... the western concepts of tolerance and sympathy (which manifest in the most extreme form now as "multiculturalism") are in fact relatively modern, and that the Muslims who embrace those ideals learned them from the West (mainly from Christian missionaries), and are in the minority.

(emphasis mine). This is a very specific claim. Steven is saying:

[1]. tolerance and sympathy are Western concepts (and he excludes Islam from his definition of Western)

[2]. muslims only acquired tolerance from Western sources, not from any Islamic source

[3]. that most of the world's muslims are intolerant

I think that my counterexamples are very relevant in addressing these blatantly false claims. I was strictly on target, and was not claiming that there are no intolerant Muslims today, or that the existence of these past tolerant societies somehow negated the existence of intolerant (and violent) Muslims today.

Steven emailed to respond:

That was Warren's point, not mine.

Demonstrably false. Warren made no such broad assertions as numbered points [1-3] above. Warren actually said the following:

For the sad truth is that the only people to whom we can appeal for "mutual understanding" from the other side, are the people who have themselves been Westernized, or "Enlightened".

But Warren assumes that Enlightenment first arose in Christendom, when my historical examples already served as a counterargument to that assertion. Tolerance and Sympathy did not arise exclusively for the first time in the history of the world during the European Enlightenment. Warren has an ultimately provincial view of history. This is analogous to asserting that "Democracy was invented by Americans" (hint: where does the word, "Senate" come from?).

Steven goes on to say,

**Warren** said that the particular Muslims in the area where he grew up had only learned about tolerance from the Catholic schools where some of them went, and it was him and not me who generalized about that to the culture more commonly. What I said was "If he's right about this then..."

If Warren was making a point about particular muslims in a specific area, then why is Steven extrapolating it to all Muslims, throughout all of history? Look at points [1-2] above again and see if Steven's characterization of his words is accurate, for yourself.

And the fact that there have been Islamic societies which were tolerant doesn't mean that the people in the area where Warren grew up didn't learn tolerance from westerners.

Well, true. But this is irrelevant to what we are discussing, and what I responded to : points [1-3] above.

What Steven has done is make an assertion (actually, three). It was general, and it was stated factually, extrapolated from Warren but stated as fact, not "If true, Then". I proved those assertions to be demonstrably false. Steven took my response and applied it to a straw man argument. This post points out that I never endorsed that straw man, and that my remarks were aimed at what he actually wrote, not what he thinks he wrote or even what Warren wrote.

in other words, judge Steven's writing by his words. Just as he would have you judge a group by its actions.

UPDATE: Porphyrogenitus recycles some polemical accusations about how intolerant the Abbasids were. While I concede that Bartleby has some polemical nuggets scaterred throughout (especially with regard to Shi'a history), I still prefer the common framework of a respected historical source like Bartleby to a political magazine like Front Page Mag (not exactly a reputable source). Still, I didn;t claim that ALL Islamic (or Christian, or Jewish) nations and empires were tolerant, but simply presented some counterexamples of a few that were (to the satisfaction of historians at least, frontpagemag partisans aside) in order to debunk SDB's specific claims [1-3].

[1] I don't pretend to know anything about Charles, but I do know that his use of the phrase Religion of Peace TM is understood to mean "typical violent behavior from Muslims" in the comments section. Applying Steven's own "a group is what it does" arguments, it doesnt matter what Charles intends by using the phrase or repeating it. The LGF commentators DO assume the phrase to mean "all Muslims are murderous bastards who'd as soon slit your throat as look at you".

[2] Though I will address the specific question of the Religion's basic message, as opposed to the cultural and social collective entity, in the following post.

[3] Existing Sunni Islam (the equivalent of Protestantism) is uniquely open to personal interpretations. In fact, one Abdul Wahab had such an interpretation, and look where that got us. Steven's call for breaking up Islam away from centralized religious interpretation actually contradicts his desired end result, a logical fallacy.

Saturday, December 7, 2002

proposed: a common framework

One of the frustrations in trying to discuss Islam (with non-Muslims and Muslims alike) is the heavy reliance on recollection, opinion, stereotype, and media-filtered factoids by most commentators rather than a detailed study of history.

Common misconceptions like "jihad has always meant war" and "Islam conquered by the sword" and "non-Muslims under Muslim rule are third-class citizens at best" are easily refutable by simple historical facts. But the patience required to try and research those facts, and insert them appropriately in the course of a debate, is beyond the capability of even those muslims who are heavily studied in the history of the world (and I am not one of them, I am a mere dabbler).

It's probably too much to expect the average questioner to do due diligence on their own - but even if the average non Muslim (seeking a dialouge with a Muslim) were to try and research their question beforehand, it is difficult to know where to even begin.

Therefore, as a common framework, let me propose the following historical reference: Bartleby's Encyclopedia of World History. Specifically, the section on the Postclassical period of world history, 500 - 1500 AD. Their copy of the World Factbook is also a useful source of data for discussions aimed at modern times. Bartleby's reputation is in my opinion beyond reproach - their goal of providing open and free access to great works of literature and reference is a noble one. I have added these links to my sidebar for convenience, and there's a search box for the entire Bartleby Reference section floating further down the sidebar.

I also highly recommend the PBS series, Islam: Empire of Faith - a grand sweeping overview of the history of the rise of Islam and it's impact upon the rest of the world. I think that this series does a lot to illustrate the weaknesses in the Clashist view of Islam.

While no historical text or documentary can hope for ultimate accuracy, or satisfy all factions, I am willing to rely on Bartleby as an agreed starting point. I hope that visitors to this blog continue to challenge me as they have done, and I ask that they also use this reference so that we can indeed be "on the same page".

silence of the media IV: dialouge of unprovable assertions

There has certainly been a full-scale resurgence in the Blame Islam movement (myself, I tend towards the Blame Muslims camp). Jonah Goldberg calls on "moderate" muslims to prove they are not terrorists. Dipnut (no offense intended, that's his pseudonym) has a lengthy and rational post which says that "moderate" muslims are really the fanatics at that Islam is rotten at its core. Steven Den Beste calls for Islam itself - the sum total of the faith, not just individual strains of interpretation - to be radically "defeated" (extending his earlier arguments). And ego-surfing on LGF reveals calls for internment camps and "nuking the cube". These examples represent a progression of sorts.

Let me respond[1] to Dipnut and Steven, explicitly, since their arguments represent a logical plateau. The arguments by NRO and LGF commentators are a kind of fallacious gorge isolating them and I have no desire to venture into such depths. With respect to Dipnut - his arguments are reasoned and well-organized, and it was a pleasure reading his writing. While I cannot fault his reasoning, my disagreement with his conclusions is no great surprise, but the reason is because I simply do not accept his assumptions (upon which his arguments are solidly grounded).

Dipnut writes:

The murderous mobs and terrorist cells may be un-Islamic in some obscure canonical sense, but right now they are more representative of Islam as a whole than are such as Aziz Poonawalla. The actual killers are only a small minority in Islam, but their sympathizers (by which I mean anyone with a neutral-or-better opinion of their activities) probably number in the hundreds of millions.

May be un-Islamic. Are more representative. Probably number. These are Dipnut's impressions and opinions, shaped by the media silence of which I addressed earlier in this series.

Note that I do not think the media is racist or that fixing that silence is a priority or any other such victimized petulance. The WHY behind the reason for the media filters are essentially irrelevant. But reliance on such heavily filtered data guarantees flawed conclusions.

The majority of Muslims ARE "moderate". This is a simple fact. The "core" of Islam is quite sound and healthy - but existing as it does in Asia and the Middle East, and documented in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Gujarati, mostly existing offline, and being of absolutely zero entertainment or shock value to the American media, the assertion that the core is rotten is intellectually dishonest. If Dipnut recognizes that the Core of Islam is completely beyond his access for observation and analysis, then the entire thesis must be re-examined[2].

Note that these assumptions are central to Steven's analysis as well. I sent Steven a link to the David Warren article "Wrestling with Islam" with the sole motive of finding it interesting, and certainty that it would trigger his blogging impulses (I dont have any ambition or desire to change Steven's view of Islam, as he speculated, though I certainly make use of him as foil for my own arguments). The Warren article is far-reaching in its scope - so I suppose what a reader chooses to extract is a reflection of their own bias. For example, I focused on a specific subset, a historical narrative. Steven focuses on Warren's pessimism as a function of his (Warren's) religious belief, regarding the outcome of the perceived clash of civilizations. Steven parlays this into an expression of his own atheist worldview, and finds cause for optimism:

If that's correct, it gives me even more hope for a positive outcome in this war, for it means that a sufficient number of terrible setbacks for their side will shatter that faith, as the infidel keep winning and Allah keeps not showing up for the fight.

I know that's not something a devout Muslim like Aziz would think is desirable, but for me as an atheist I see religion as being helpful for individuals but largely negative for society collectively. To the extent that individuals practice it without it becoming a societal force, it's net positive (in most cases) providing comfort and guidance. When it starts meddling in politics, the effects are uniformly negative in part because it is uniformly anti-pluralistic. Thus for me the ideal state is actually something like what we have in the US, where religion is quite common but there are so many different ones that no single one attains critical mass.

I agree that the United States is the closest to ideal, for complementary reasons, as a member of a minority of a minority religion. Steven is mistaken when he thinks I would disagree with him about the desirability of Wahabis finding that Allah does not materialize to lend their deranged interpretations spiritual legitimacy. I think my self-interest in such a scenario is obvious. But where I start to disagree is in how he extrapolates his atheist worldview to the most unlikely of targets - ie, the practice of religion:

I've been wondering for a while, and have sometimes voiced the possibility, that indeed one way for this war to end is for us to shatter Islam itself; not Islamism or pan-Arabism, but Islam outright. At the very least, the most fundamentalist forms of Islam may need to be shattered.

Certainly Wahhabism has to be the primary target of this, and what would remain in what I see as the ideal case would be Islam as personal religion but without Islam as mass movement. Islam existing, Islam still broadly believed, but Islam in a thousand small pieces (if not in hundreds of millions). Islam not as a small number of vast monoliths, but Islam as a personal faith, interpreted as the result of individual study and thought. Islam as belief and not dogma; as religion and not as identity. Islam as moral guidance and not as politics. Islam as the equivalent of the thousand Protestant sects of Christianity, not Islam as Catholic Church. Islam as a force in individual lives but with little direct effect on the operations of society (any society, theirs or ours). Islam as one religion among many.

This extends Steven's prior ideas about Defeating Islam, but here the scope is expanded dramatically. Having never met Steven, I can't be certain, but I think I detect his sense of humor at work. It cannot be a coincidence that his side of the debate with me always returns to defining my belief on his terms :) But treating this as a serious proposal, it's easy to identify gaping flaws in his understanding of how Islam is structured.

The fact is, the vision of an intensely personal Islam that Steven advocates is already central to the faith. In fact, as a Shi'a, I am further from this state than a Wahabi, since Shi'a do believe in hierarchical religious systems and Sunnis practice a more distributed form of worship. The analogy between Shi'a and Sunni is analogous to Catholic and Protestant. The danger of the Wahabis is not that it is a centralized theocracy, but rather that every wingnut with a Qur'an is free to indulge in projection of their prejudices and grievances onto the text, without any authority to assist with the context.

The great schools of Islamic thought - four Sunni "madhabs", and the Shi'a branches - all have extensive devotion to exegisis of the Qur'an, as a coherent book. Only the Wahabis take a word-by-word, reductionist approach to the text. Lacking a centralized authority, they are able to assign meanings based on expediency, not context or analysis. Steven's solution would undermine these traditional structured schools and actually encourage Wahabi-like theologies. To extend his analogy towards Christianity, he is labeling Protestants "Catholics" and then arguing that they need to be more Protestant!

Also, Steven has a dramatically false assertion:

Warren makes a point also made elsewhere that the western concepts of tolerance and sympathy (which manifest in the most extreme form now as "multiculturalism") are in fact relatively modern, and that the Muslims who embrace those ideals learned them from the West (mainly from Christian missionaries), and are in the minority.

Actually, Islam makes the same distinction in the Qur'an that Christianity has always made between "believers" and "non-believers". I find it ironic that an atheist like Steven has never come across this concept in Christianity before. The Qur'an has very strong messages of tolerance - explicitly calling for respect and freedom of other faiths to exist and practice in peace. The most famous surat in the Qur'an about tolerance has a powerful, yet simple message:

O disbelievers!

I worship not that which ye worship;

Nor worship ye that which I worship.

And I shall not worship that which ye worship.

Nor will ye worship that which I worship.

Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.

And the Abbasid Caliphate, based in Baghdad[3], was reknowned for its tolerance and benevolent rule over its non-Muslim subjects. The Fatimid Dynasty in Egypt even had non-Muslims at the highest levels of government. And the Mughal Emperor Akbar married a Hindu princess. These are simply a few counterexamples to disprove Steven's general assertion that tolerance is alien to Islamic teachings or cultures.

And Steven makes the same media-filtered gaffe as Dipnut when he tries to assert that tolerant Muslims are in the minority. It certainly me be true that a minority of Muslims viewed in the media are tolerant. But to extrapolate from a filtered data set to the general populace? I invite Steven to consult his copy of Bevington and review the section on "Estimated Error in the Mean" (specifically Equation 4.14).

Dipnut also tries to underscore the general argument by making the case that the Wahabis' control of Mecca lends them a far-reaching legitimacy:

A "moderate" Muslim*, living in the West, may deplore the bloody-minded Wahhabi sect of Islam, but as a Muslim he cannot elude its influence. The Wahhabis own Mecca, and as we'll soon see, whoever owns Mecca gets to decide not only the landscaping and architecture but the meaning of the place. When our friendly Muslim goes on his hajj, he'll be in the Wahhabis' hands. He'll live, for a time, in their brutal austerity, in their idea of a good society. He'll adopt their customs. He'll do as they say, if only to get through the day in a strange land. The white-washed, windowless walls will enclose him, the endless drumbeat of purity purity purity will soak into him as he reaches for the wellspring of his own soul, to offer his devotion to God.

And for the rest of his life, five times a day, he'll relive the experience, praying toward the Mecca of the Wahhabis' sterile hopes and dreams. Of course, this won't make him a Wahhabi. He can retain his own ideals, his own interpretation. But that interpretation will always be at odds with a central part of his religious experience. A small thing, perhaps, but a small leak in the boat means bailing water throughout the journey.

This is absolutely false (to say nothing of the profound misunderstanding of Hajj[4]). Consider a history lesson: ALL of the great Islamic empires (Ummaiyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Babur, Ottoman) established their capitals in brand new cities - Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Delhi, Constantinpole - rather than try to control Mecca directly. The main role of Mecca was that whichever ruler's name was read aloud at the Great Mosque on holy friday was the generally acknowledged Symbolic Leader of Islam (in the Sunni tradition). But this did not translate to any kind of pan-Islamic control, and rival Islamic empires existed simultaneously at many points in history.

Granted, the Wahabis control Mecca, but that is SOLELY because the Sauds control Arabia. And the Sauds control Arabia SOLELY with British, then American, support.

But is their control of Mecca the reason that the Wahabis have established such a threatening posture regarding proslytezation? NO. It is because Wahabis are funded by Saudis[5]. The success of the Wahabis is DIRECTLY a function of their enormous base of political and economic support from the Sauds. The Sauds are DIRECTLY supported by the West. The West is in a Clash of Civilizations with Wahabi Islam? Do you detect a certain irony?

The truth is that the rest of the 99% of the Muslims worldwide who belong to thousands upon thousands of different ethnic/political sects, and who adhere to any one of hundreds of theological schools, are not influenced by Wahabism because they control Mecca. It is because the poverty of the third world, the oppressive rule of tyrants, and the misguided implementation of ideological economic policies, have all resulted in a vast pool of disaffected people[6]. These people exist in Palestine, in Turkey, in Israel, in Egypt - even in France. This is fertile ground for Wahabism, a parasitic interpretation whose Christian counterpart has not gained much traction in recent history (the occassional Fallwell and Robertson aside) because the disaffected class has largely been pacified[7].

The real problem thus boils down into a top-down parasite (Wahabism) that is artificially supported (Sauds) feeding on a vast pool that is fed from bottoms-upwards by oppression and misery. How to correct the problem? Remove either the parasite or the pool. The pool is a larger problem and much more complicated[8]. The parasite is a simple problem. Which do you think the war on Iraq will solve, if you by into the warblogger and neocon theories about why Iraq needs the smackdown?

So what then to make of all these non-Muslims exhorting Reformations and Defeats? Al these calls for Islam to be remade into something a little more Western or democratic or Christian or fuzzy or otherwise compatible with the NRO crew and the neocon agenda? The fact is, Islam as mass movement is a manifestation of the inherent strength underlying the basic undistorted message of the Qur'an. Which is embodied by the daily living practice of nearly a billion "moderate" muslims worldwide. This is an unstoppable force of good in the world, whose legacy is generation upon generation of decent and moral people, who strive for ascension to the next world by the virtue of their deeds in the present one.

This may not be very reassuring to Steven, but Islam has and will continue and grow. The calls for Reformations and the polemics about how rotten the Core of Islam is, are mere hysterics, fueled by false binary-ism of the Clash of Civilizations thesis. Those who buy into the existenc of a separable entity called "The West" and another called "Islam" are naturally going to try and neuter the other side. Steven's hope that Islam loses its appeal and becomes more of a personal philosophy (akin to his self-defined engineerism) is really an attempt to destroy what makes Islam unique, so that it becomes more familiar, and thus less threatening. Trying to convince him that Islam is not the problem, that it is a solution to the problem, is pointless, and it is not my goal, because what he thinks about Islam is essentially irrelevant.

The current phase of Wahabism is an artificial construct, which we as Muslims must deal with realistically - but it is not a manifestation of an inner rot - it was grafted onto Islam by Imperials and continues to be propped up by neo-Imperials. But ratherthan cast stones of blae, we have to grapple with it in a realistic way. I will discuss how Muslims need to do this in my long-promised final post in the Silence series.

[1] The silence of the media series has been extended. This is not my oft-promised final silence post. It's the penultimate one, though. Probably.

[2] Consider: what are the policy ramifications of a Core of Islam that is sound? What consequences exist if the assumption that the Core of Islam is rotten, is in fact false?

[3] There is no small amount of irony in the notion that to "save" and "reform" Islam, the West must conquer Baghdad to do it.

[4] Few non-Muslims are aware, but what you do during Hajj was prescribed by the Prophet SAW, and is not influenced in any way by the Saudis. The religious rituals, the ascetic quality to the experience, all are constant and have been since the Prophet SAW himself led it. What teh Saudis have done is actually make Hajj safer, cleaner, and more accessible, and they finance hundreds of thousands if not millions of pilgrims each year, providing opportunity for Hajj to millions who would otherwise never have the means to complete this requirement of faith. The treatment of the Hajj is the one single aspect of the Saud legacy in Islam with which I not only find zero fault, but actually praise to the highest degree.With all due respect to Dipnut, all his comments about Hajj and filtering worldview and whatnot are the purest nonsense.

[5] Did I mention that the Sauds were installed by the British, and continue to be supported by America?

[6] The source and nature of these failed policies and terrible condition is not relevant here.

[7] Funded by the success of imperialism. Ironically, if the pundits are correct and Islam must follow exactly the path that Christianity took from Bad Boy to Paternal Figure, then Islamic nations shoudl also embark on imperialist courses. Now we are getting into Orwell's theories of perpetual war abroad to disguise the problems at home, and its a nother topic...

[8] I don't buy into the self-victimizing conceit that the West deliberately oppresses muslims because they hate Us and What We Stand For. Though, doesn't that rhetoric sound familiar?

I voted for ExciteBike

Get in the holiday spirit!

The Tournament of Stuff Holiday Edition is up. Naturally, since ham is haram, I voted for stockings. And I'm voting for the North Pole because of my Magnetic Resonance background (which makes me more attuned, pardon the pun, to the Earth's Switch campaign)

(what the heck is the Tournament of Stuff? Glad you asked. Try not to get sucked into the Movie Puzzle.)

Friday, December 6, 2002

the coming thing

Steven Den Beste has analyzed an essay I forwarded him (originally brought to my attention by Bill Allison). Titled, "Wrestling with Islam", it is a deeply analytical and evocative look at how radical Islamism was shaped and brought to form, and the nature of the vacuums which it rushed to fill. There are many observations and ideas in this piece, but the heart of the essay is this compelling historical narrative, which I am reproducing in full despite its length:

As I have already hinted, in the Lahore of my childhood, where Protestant I attended a Catholic school, along with many Muslim Pakistanis -- it was very easy to be a Christian. Bear in mind that, until recently, almost all of Pakistan's Muslim prime ministers, and party and military and business leaders, came up from schools such as the one I attended, not only in Pakistan, but in India, too. In fact, the case was somewhat similar through most of the Islamic world, wherever European Imperialism left its mark, which was almost everywhere. And as the Europeans left, chiefly British, French, and Dutch, they left emerging ruling classes, who, largely because of this education, did their thinking more in English, or French, or even Dutch, than in Urdu, or Arabic, or Malay.

To be modern meant, in practice, to have been educated by Christians, chiefly by Roman Catholics, and many of those indeed missionary monks and nuns. And upper-class parents sent their children to these schools, not because they were Christian, but because they were the only schools where a decent, modern education was available -- one which would equip them to understand, and thus "to survive", that big new modern world.

Through schools like my own St. Anthony's the New Class was reproduced and sustained. This meant that at the top of society, we had an instinctive commitment to religious tolerance -- for if you get rid of the Christians, where will your kids go to school? How will they learn to network? And correspondingly, at the bottom of the society, among the common people, this tolerance tends to be confirmed whenever it is not disturbed, from the ages-old human willingness to somehow get along with your neighbours, if only to avoid the loss of everything you have in communal violence.

So from the bottom, to the top, there were strong reinforcements for what I think is the finest political slogan: "Live and let live."

At the top, leaders quite well acquainted with the broad cosmopolitan world of modernity -- people who were just as much Westernizers as the colonial administrators whom they replaced. The future movers and shakers, more likely than not, also went on to university in the West, to clinch the effect. And while they remained Muslim, at least nominally, they were also secularized, and imbued with our Western distinction between Church and State -- in their case, Mosque and State. They tended, unconsciously or even consciously, to look upon their own religious inheritance as backward, inferior, incapable of competing. It was only as Westernized, modern, secular, educated people that they could feel equal with their "mentors" in the West.

This did not make them closet Christians, however, far from it. To become Christian would be to lose their claim to govern in a predominantly Muslim society. Those who were Christian to start with, stayed that way, and could mix freely in the ruling class. Those who were Muslim to start with also stayed that way, outwardly, though they began to lose their bearings inwardly.

Most often, they became socialists of one kind or another, for in the world of only a few decades ago, that very Western ideology of "socialism" could still be presented as the coming thing, as a "scientific" thing, the cutting edge of progress. Most came to believe that the best way to modernize their societies was through central planning, and that their own class was in effect the socialist vanguard, the people who had the education and ability to deliver their peoples into the modern world. They looked forward to a world that would be, if anything, post-Muslim and post-Christian -- to the triumph of a kind of universal civil order, that would be socialist in its economy, both East and West.

And naturally, they also bought into another Western idea, another idea which had no place in any traditional Muslim order. They became nationalists as well as socialists, for how can you advance socialism except within a coherent national order? Hence the ideological currents running through the Muslim world in the generation before Iran's Ayatollahs -- Nasserism, pan-Arabism, the Baathist parties of Syria and Iraq, the Bhutto faction in Pakistan, Sukarno in Indonesia, Algerian radicalism in the Maghreb. It was all so clear to all of them, that this was the way forward.

It was instead a catastrophe. Human nature is just what it is, and the laws of supply and demand operate to punish grand ideological schemes, just as the law of gravity operates against other forms of human flight. None of those five-year plans ever worked. And the only thing that did work was the elites clinging to power, trying to Westernize or modernize their societies with increasing frustration.

Moreover, consider the disconnect, between such rulers and their own people. In some ways Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and Bashir Assad of Syria, are the last survivors of that family of dinosaurs -- of that world that existed before the deluge of "Islamism" -- the word we now use for fanatically politicized Islam. (Please note carefully how I use it to distinguish from "Islam" at large.) Though even these radically secular rulers have made their own accommodations with the Islamist tide, and indeed their own connexions with Al Qaeda.

Elsewhere, we encounter the old elites, but find them like beached whales, still nominally presiding over the societies which they have helped destroy, economically, socially, religiously, and in every other practical way, so that there was nothing left for them but to find a new excuse for holding on to power, and someone else to blame for what happened.

In Pakistan, for instance, the elites are certainly still there, only beginning to be diluted by the arrivistes from the Islamist madrasas. From the other side, they are bled by emigration, for the engineers and the technocrats, and the other functionaries of the New Class, are leaving as fast as they can to the West. It is an economic imperative, there are diminishing opportunities at home; for where there is no oil to pump and refine, there tends to be precious little else in the way of an economy. They wash their hands of all those five-year plans, and get quite peacefully on planes for Europe and America, where they can hope at least to stay solvent. And all they are really leaving behind is the poor of their societies, to fend for themselves.

The New Class that remains, which by now is becoming rather an old class, finds itself enmired in a more and more urgent search for some new silver bullet, some fine new theoretical scheme to replace the tried-and-failed socialism, if for no other reason than to justify their own purchase on elitehood. The alternative is to slide down from eminence, into those mushrooming brick, stick, tin & mud suburbs that they must fear in a way that we, who have not seen them up so close, can never fully understand or empathize with. It is no small thing to lose your place in the social order; and especially in an order with such deep shafts.

It is in the last generation or two, that many of these people have begun, either subtly or overtly, to buy into "Islamism". For Islamism has been, since that heady moment when the clerics of Shia Iran led the overthrow of the late Shah, the "coming thing" in the Muslim world, the new, essentially political ideology, the new patent medicine, that offers a cure for whatever ails you.

But the conclusions that the author (David Warren) makes are by no means limited in scope to this narrative. In fact, there is something for everyone to disagree with, including (most emphatically myself, for example I do not agree as Warren does) the Clash of Civilizations thesis which ends the essay on a slightly pessimistic note.

I will address Steven's comentary and arguments about the essay in the next post in my Silence of the Media series. The full article has also been posted to the UNMEDIA mailing list (public archives are browsable/searchable by non-subscribers, take a look)

Thursday, December 5, 2002

Clash of idiotarians

The following quote is not from Chomsky, or Fisk, or Said. Read:

"the West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."

These are the words of Samuel Huntington, oft-invoked author of the Clash of Civilizations thesis, with which I vehemently disagree.

The quote comes from Salam Pax of the Where is Raed blog (linked at left on my blogroll), an iraqi living and blogging from Iraq. Salam Pax has a long rant in answer to the Clash-ians who have infested his comments section. Salam Pax had the following words of thanks and appreciation to the West that put Huntington's quote in perspective.