Friday, October 22, 2010

The Travails of Modern Islam

From a transcript of an invitation-only seminar at Future Directions International, Perth, Western Australia, August 20, 2010, by Daniel Pipes [brief excerpt only - follow this link to the full transcript, including the Q&A, and to download the audio]:

...the Islamic religion prevails in majority-Muslim countries stretching from Senegal to Indonesia, and is not simply a Middle Eastern phenomenon. Muslim people can now be found in substantial numbers in Europe, North America, Latin America, and indeed, Oceania.

...In the broad sweep of history, the Islamic religion got off to a very fast and successful start. Muhammad himself fled Mecca in 622 A.D. By the time of his death, however, he was ruler of Arabia and within 100 years his followers had gone from Spain to India. This was more than just a military conquest. The Muslim faith was successful in culture, the arts, and the economy and created the great empires of its age. Had you looked around the world say precisely a millennium ago, August 20th, 1010, you would've concluded that Islam was the most successful civilisation, more so than those of China, Europe or India.

Starting from about 1200, especially after the Mogul invasions, the civilisation of Islam declined and stagnated for a long time. The striking fact was that Muslims long were generally unaware of this downturn although it finally became vividly obvious around 1800, especially when Napoleon landed in Egypt and wiped out the Ottoman and Mamluk armies. Napoleon brought with him a cadre of scientists who started studying the flora, fauna, and archaeology, savants who would eventually crack the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics. His was not only a military expedition but a scientific one as well. The contrast between the Egyptians and the French was stark and shocked Muslims into realising that, during their long period of stagnation, Europe had surged ahead.

Trauma followed. Muslims had assumed that they were blessed by God in both spiritual and mundane ways. Now they worried that God had forsaken them, which led to a profound reassessment of what it means to be a Muslim. Muslims saw themselves challenged by Europe and more broadly by the West, and this is a challenge that Muslims still face today.

How is it that the people who should be on top – militarily, economically, politically, culturally, scientifically, technologically – how is it that they now sit at the bottom in terms of literacy, longevity, Nobel Prizes per capita, Olympic medals per capita? Indeed, whatever index you choose, Muslim states are at the bottom. Muslim people are not doing well; some of the worst countries in the world include Somalia, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq, all of which are majority Muslim. This is a great strain, a great challenge: What went wrong and how do they fix it?

...Over the course of the past 200 years, there have been three major explanations. The first one was what one might call the liberal Western explanation, namely emulating the French and the British. These nationalities descended upon Muslim lands in particular; they built empires; they offered themselves as models. They were extremely successful and Muslims tended to emulate them. The symbolic figure of this trend was Kemal Atatürk, the ruler of Turkey between 1923 and 1938, who removed Islam from public life, replaced Arabic words with French words, brought in Belgian and Swiss legal codes, and in all made Turkey look increasingly Western.

But this didn't work. By the 1920s and 30s, despite Atatürk, there was a sense that this liberal effort had failed. So Muslim adopted another approach. The approach that appeared at that time to be most impressive was the illiberal Western approach. The 1920s were the hey-day of totalitarian societies, with Mussolini and Lenin in particular showing the way. These offered models that proved very influential; Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt symbolizes this approach to politics. For the next 50 to 60 years, the Fascist and Communist models prevailed in large swaths of intellectual and political life. They didn't do too well either, they didn't solve the problems of weakness and poverty.

So, with the disappointment in these two movements came a third solution, namely the Islamist one. The goal of this movement was not to emulate one form or another of Western ideology or power; it was to return to Islamic experience and to draw on the wisdom and achievements of Muslims in the past and to rehabilitate the Muslim world by learning from Islamic experience. The goal is to do something that is old, that draws on Islamic successes of past centuries. Ayatollah Khomeini symbolizes this approach.

Of course, you can't go back. You can emulate 7th-century Islam but you can't repeat it. Islamist movements of recent decades have created a new ideology, not revived something old. I am convinced this will be a failure too. The so far number-one experiment, the Islamic Republic of Iran, has failed by any standard, if only because a great majority of its subjects are rejecting it.

Bin Laden and Wahhabi-style Islamism clearly have no future. How can they run countries? Just imagine Bin Laden as ruler; it would be like the Taliban and it wouldn't work. Even a less extreme version, such as that in Iran, is not workable in the long term.

Instead, what we're seeing is that the Islamists are evolving into something that is more sustainable. Turkey offers the outstanding model here. The Turkish Islamists run and win elections; they don't depend on violence. They exercise good economic stewardship and good governance more broadly. While Turkey has many problems, its Islamists have shown that an alternative exists. An era has begun in which Islamists in part use violence on the Bin Laden and in part they work the political system.

Many Islamist groups are making a name for themselves by engaging in social services. One of the tensions now in Pakistan is that the Islamists, as happened with the earthquakes some months ago, are coming in first with the most aid for the victims of flooding. They win good will and respect for their work.

Getting back to the central issue, how Muslims answer the question "What went wrong?" Are they approaching a functional answer? I think not but that we are in a very dark period of little creativity, much instability, and much violence. I don't see any improvements soon but I do anticipate the potential for improvement. Anything that can get worse can, logically, also get better, and I expect a working out of the Islamist impulse, to be followed by something more constructive. At some point, Muslims will begin to discard it and to look elsewhere. I don't know what they're going to look for. Will it be return to the 19th century and Western liberalism? Will it be following the Chinese model?

In the meantime, things could get worse. Chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are within grasp and could be used. This threat could lead to far greater instability. There is also considerable anger within the Muslim world as the great majority of Islamist victims have been Muslim, for example in Algeria and Darfur....

Read more: follow this link to the full transcript, including the Q&A, and to download the audio.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Israel: Jewish and democratic.

From Ynet news, 18 October 2010, by Attila Somfalvi:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyu said Monday that

"We expect anyone wishing to become an Israeli citizen to recognize Israel as the Jewish nation state and a democratic state. There is a broad consensus within the Israeli public as to the Jewish and democratic nature of the country, and this is not by happenstance.

"The State of Israel was not established as 'just another state' – it was founded as the sovereign state of the Jewish people in their historic homeland; and as a democratic nation, whose citizens, Jews and non-Jews, enjoy full civil equality."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why is Israel offering concessions in return for what was agreed to in past deals?

From Ynet News, 17 October2010, by Moshe Dann:

...Wasn't Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state part of the Oslo Accords?

...if the Oslo Accords, and Wye, and Hebron Agreements did not mean an end to incitement and terrorism, what do they mean?

And, if these agreements do not mean what they say, why did Israel give up territory, help create a Palestinian army, and transfer billions of dollars to the PA?...

De-legitimization must stop
If the PA has not lived up to its agreements, why doesn't President Peres object that he was misled? Why isn't he demanding that the Palestinians live up to their side of the bargain? Or, is he part of the campaign of disinformation?

The fact that PM Netanyahu needs to call for recognition, and is rejected by the PA, means that the agreements were a fake...

That the Israeli government offers further concessions in return for what was agreed to during the past 17 years, is a disgrace.

...Those who oppose "the occupation" owe the Israeli people an explanation for why Palestinians reject any form of recognition of Israel's legitimacy – and why they remain silent in the face of that insult. Why do they call for boycotts of Israel, and refuse to demand PA compliance?

...It's time to freeze the system that rewards PA non-compliance and contributes to undermining Israel, at home and the international community. PA de-legitimization of Israel must stop now.

...the question of recognition shows that the primary dispute – obviously – is not over territory, but over Israel's existence.

PM Netanyahu's demand that Palestinian leaders recognize Israel as a Jewish state is not a semantic tease; Israel's Jewish character is its raison d'etre, the "Jewish national home," and the essence of its sovereignty.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Richard Wagner should rot in hell

From Isi Leibler, October 15, 2010:

...The Jewish boycott of [notorious anti-Semite Richard] Wagner's music was initiated in 1938 following Kristallnacht when the Nazis burned synagogues and instituted massive nationwide pogroms against Jews.

In 2001 during the Israel Festival in Jerusalem Daniel Barenboim conducted a selection of Wagner's music which led to demonstrations and the then mayor Ehud Olmert condemned Barenboim's initiative as "brazen, arrogant uncivilized and insensitive."

A few weeks ago Katherina Wagner, the German composer's great granddaughter, sought to visit Israel to formally invite the Cameri Israeli Chamber Orchestra to inaugurate the forthcoming session of the Bayreuth Festival in Germany - an annual event promoting Wagner's music. Her intentions were leaked to the media and created such a maelstrom, that she canceled the visit.

But Cameri announced that it still intended to perform at the festival, although it undertook not to play or even rehearse Wagner's music in Israel.

...Richard Wagner ...became a central pillar in the anti-Semitic character of Nazism. In fact Wagner even coined the terms "Jewish problem" and "final solution," which subsequently became central to the Nazi vocabulary of Jew hatred.

In his notorious essay titled "Judaism in Music" first published in 1851, Wagner expressed his fervent revulsion for what he described as "cursed Jewish scum" and referring to Jews said that the "only thing [that] can redeem you from the burden of your curse:[is] the redemption of Ahasverus - total destruction" ...In this essay Wagner described Jews as "hostile to European civilization"and "ruling the world through money." He said that "Judaism is rotten at the core and is a religion of hatred," described the cultured Jew as "the most heartless of all human beings" and referred to Jewish composers as being "comparable to worms feeding on the body of art."

Wagner's family continued to promote his vile anti-Semitic ideology, and became a central focus for Jew baiters and radical right wing Germans. His daughter Eva married Houston Chamberlain, an Englishman who crafted the ideology for Nazi racism in his notorious book "The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century."

After his death, Wagner's family became a central attraction for anti-Semitic and radical right wing Germans.
Although Wagner died 50 years before the Nazis came to power, Hitler absolutely venerated him, saying, "Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner." He was so enraptured with him that he is quoted as having said "Richard Wagner is my religion."

...For Jews and, in particular for survivors, Wagner is not just another anti-Semite. He is bracketed with Nazism and can be said to have been a forerunner of those who paved the way for the Shoa. On top of this, Bayreuth, the location of the festival was renowned as a center for Nazi "cultural" activity.

Under such circumstances it is surely shameful for Jews to be associated with activity that can be linked to such an evil person. It truly requires a person to act in a schizophrenic manner to say that they can enjoy this man's music and close their eyes to his evil actions. But even more so, the heartlessness of Israelis ignoring the sensitivities of Holocaust survivors represents a stain on our dignity and national identity.

But for an Israeli orchestra to actually go to Germany to perform his works in Bayreuth where he was glorified by the Nazis is truly a national disgrace. It should be cancelled.