Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Mesopotamian

If you would like to add a little balance to your thinking on the present situation in Iraq, please do read the last few postings of The Mesopotamian

Yes, there is a double "s" in the URL!

Denial: a Characteristic of the Islamic Mind

by Jacob Thomas

Early in 2006, I discovered a relatively new Arabic web site: www.
It originates in Kuwait, and its goal, as its name Tanweer (Enlightenment) implies, is to provide a forum for the discussion of such topics as Religion & Modernity, Civil Society, Democracy, Human Rights, and Women’s place and role in society.

The subjects discussed in this forum are intriguing, as most of them would be considered avant-garde by an average Muslim. What catches my attention in my frequent perusal of the articles on this site are the readers’ comments. They tend to be very negative, and annoyed by any suggestion of changes in the status quo!

I would like to share with you an article with this title: Inkar (Denial). The author dealt with the topic of denial as a characteristic of the Islamic Mind. Years ago, I read books that dealt with the Arab Mind, but to my knowledge I have not noticed any book dealing with this larger topic such as the Islamic Mind. Even though, I would regard V. S. Naipaul’s books, An Islamic Journey, and Beyond Belief, as attempts to fathom and describe this mind.

The writer goes by the name of Ahmad al-Baghdadi; I presume that he is a Kuwaiti, but of an Iraqi background. He began with these lines:

Dr. Kamel al-Najjar, a respected author now living securely in the West, wrote an article published on the Internet dealing with the Crisis of the Islamic Mind. What he meant was the mind of Muslims and not of Islam, as a faith.

This crisis manifests itself as a serious illness besetting Muslims nowadays, namely their persistent denial of their lack of progress in the fields of scientific and human endeavors. At the same time, they keep on claiming that they are God’s best people; thus, justifying their mistakes or ignoring them in a rather shockingly naïve manner.

Everyone is aware of this lack of progress. The solution for this chronic illness requires an acknowledgement of this denial, in the same way as Dr. al-Najjar requires alcoholics, or drug addicts seeking healing, to acknowledge their condition, and confess publicly their desire for a cure. It is only after such a confession takes place that the treatment for the cure of an addict begins. On the other hand, as long as an alcoholic or a drug addict refuses to acknowledge the seriousness and reality of his condition, he is bound to continue in his substance abuse. People around him notice the results of his addiction, in spite of the fact that he persists in his denial.

Today, the Arabs’ failures are noticeable everywhere: in education, in economics, in politics, in culture, in administration, in technology, in manufacturing, and in human relations. If it were not for the mercy of God and the existence of the West, the Arabs would have perished, as their life expectancy would not have exceeded thirty years. [They should thank] the West that provides them with the necessities of life: such as food, medicines, technology, as well as university training for those fortunate Arabs [who manage to enter Western universities.]

And regardless of this evident lack of progress, we find Arabs taking a stand against intellectual pursuits, civil liberties, and science. They neither control the present, nor the future; all they possess is a past that ceased to exist around five hundred years ago. In other words, they glory in a culture that is no more!

Just as a car does not move without fuel, so is the condition of human civilizations; their fuel is liberty and democracy. Arabs refuse both. But they insist on claiming that they love freedom, intellectual life, and culture; while they keep on playing a broken record that proclaims the West’s indebtedness to the Islamic civilization. This is the apex of delusion!

Today, Arabs are in need of a quick medicine that would end their addiction to a dead past, and allow them to start a new life. This will not happen, as Dr. al-Najjar pointed out, unless they are ready to confess publicly their backwardness. This is the first step. The next step is the search for a cure. The prescription is ready and available from the American doctor: freedom and democracy.

That gifted Arab essayist Adonis once wrote: “A society that places at the top of the pyramid of its national concerns a policy of an oppressive security, and makes it the custodian for the conduct of politics, is in the process of self-destruction. There is no such thing as security without a security that guarantees freedom and democracy. Any Arab regime that arrests a citizen on account of his thoughts or opinions is arresting not merely one citizen, but an entire country. And a government that sends a citizen to prison for his thoughts is actually incarcerating itself.”

The Arabs today are living in the prison of their past, and the key to the gate of that prison is lost. What’s needed is the destruction of the gate itself, so that they may get out and experience freedom. Therefore we must destroy the shackles of that imaginary history that causes us to indulge in claiming a spurious greatness. We need to learn the lessons of history. Sometimes, however, we deny these lessons in the name of religion; other times in the name of Arab nationalism. Such denials lead to the death of any attempt for progress. So as long as Arabs cling to their concept of history with all its deceptions without attempting to separate truth from falsehood, facts from fiction, they will continue in their present state for ever.

These words of al-Baghdadi are strong medicine. They must express the exasperation of several Arab and Muslim intellectuals who are fed up with the status quo. The Internet allows them to utter such words which are regarded as extreme by the very people who need them the most.

Unfortunately the counter-denials pour into the web site. I was very disappointed by one response from a person who lives in Kuwait, the home of the Enlightenment site. He wrote, not only condemning the author of “Denial,” but all, yes all the contributors to Tanweer. Unfortunately, there are many like him who prefer to live within the prison of the past, because they are unwilling to acknowledge their addiction to a mythical view of Islamic history.

Mr. Badr (full-moon, as his Arabic name means,) shot back these shocking words: "Half of those contributing to this web site should be sent to prison, and the other half, should be confined to mental hospitals."

What a pity that a civilization that persists in denial, should prefer darkness to light!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Human Rights Violations in Arab Prisons

By Jacob Thomas

That some Iraqi prisoners were mistreated at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Baghdad is now a fact of history. Soon after these violations of human rights became known to the United States Administration, they were properly dealt with. Unfortunately, some sections of the American media keep on harping on the topic. Every now and then, the New York Times for example, drags up some “event” that had taken place at that prison, and heralds it to its shrinking readership. One cannot escape being aware of that kind of propaganda parading as news.
So it was rather interesting to discover a more honest assessment of the whole affair, in an international online Arabic daily. I have in mind the March 13, 2006 issue of Al-Sharq al-Awsat that published an article with this headline: Human Rights Abuses in Arab Prisons.

I hesitate to share all the shocking information that appeared in this article. Some of the torture methods are beyond description. Nevertheless, I decided to translate the article and comment on some of its parts, not to minimize what happened at Abu Ghraib, but to underline the fact that some of our print and broadcast media have lost their balance, and therefore forfeited all credibility. So, here are excerpts from the article written by an Arab columnist for an Arab readership.

We have all been talking about the human rights violations that took place at Abu Ghraib Prison. Unquestionably, those American jailors were ugly and very repulsive by any human standards, in their treatments of the prisoners. But what about the human rights violations that have occurred in Arab prisons, and have been perpetrated by Arab hands?
I am holding in my hands a summary of the First Yearly Report for 2005, regarding conditions at the prisons and the treatment of prisoners in nine Arab countries. It was published by the Organization for the Reform of Criminal Law. The main points of the Report were printed in Al-Watan newspaper of Saturday, 11 March 2006.

At this point I would like to warn the reader to take a deep breath, and sit calmly as he, or she, reads the Report. I have purposely censored certain terrible descriptions that appeared in the Arabic original text. The report highlights the fact that the Arab World has become a place of expertise in the various means of torture. Here are some of the methods used to torture prisoners: ‘beating them with canes or cables in various areas of the body; placing a prisoner inside a rubber tire so that he becomes unable to move while he is being tortured. Not to forget the use of electric shocks, and the so-called ‘German chair’ for torture. In this horrible method a prisoner is placed on a moving iron chair that causes unbearable pressure on his back-bone, resulting in partial and temporary paralysis, and sometimes permanent. One should not forget to mention the resort to burning prisoners with cigarettes, and torturing them in water!’

The columnist concluded his comments on the Report: According to the report, the Organization for the Reform of Criminal Law aims at bringing about a reformation in the legislative structures and penal laws of the Arab world, protecting and defending human rights by building bridges of cooperation between the ORCL and the local branches in every Arab country. Its goal is to bring about a complete change in the concept of penal philosophy that would be in harmony with the dignity of human beings in accordance with International Law.
Taking account of the report of this young Arab organization, and accepting the veracity of its findings, we may conclude that the inhuman conditions as described in its report, would result in exacerbating the violence that grips the Arab world. Such prisons cannot but breed souls that, upon their release, are filled with feelings of hatred, victimhood, and desire to inflict vengeance upon society. Rather than becoming instruments for the reformation of their inmates, these prisons engender souls that are bent on committing more crimes.

How I wish the above article could have appeared on the pages of such dailies as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune; as well as being read by the men and women at NPR and PBS in their daily accounts of world news!

What added credibility to the shocking revelations of the article about the Human Rights Abuses in Arab Prisons were several responses that were published in the daily. The vast majority agreed with the columnist. Here are some examples:

From Egypt came this Email. The writer related a fable to underscore his conviction that those who torture prisoners will receive a terrible punishment in the hereafter:
A woman ended up in Hell because she had imprisoned her cat. If that was the punishment of a person who had maltreated an animal, what would be the punishment of those who torture their fellow-human beings?

An Arab living in Turkey wrote:
The Arab media have been preoccupied with the beatings that took place at Abu Ghraib; but they have forgotten, or purposely neglected those tortured in Arab prisons, as well as the mass graves of Saddam Hussein, and those of other Arab regimes. The media did that to cause the Arab street to forget their real problems.

An Iraqi having found refuge in Monte Carlo wrote on the 13th of March the following:
Iraqis have experienced various means of torture. As an Iraqi, let me share my experiences for the welfare of my Arab brothers. We have experienced horrific torture in Saddam’s jails. It is not even possible to compare them with conditions at Abu Ghraib. In all honesty I must say that American and British prisons [in Iraq ] are more humane than those existing in Arab lands. Arab prison guards know nothing but a culture of inhuman treatment and the torture of their prisoners.

The article in Al-Sharq al-Awsat and the comments of some of its readers, revealed how necessary it is for a truly responsible media in the West to focus their attention on such subjects as the “Human Rights Abuses in Arab Prisons” rather than endlessly resurrecting those abuses that took place in Baghdad. After all, these were temporary, while those going on right now (at least in nine Arab countries) are very real and under-reported!

Three Cheers for Canada!

To discover why the cheering we recommend that you take a look at David Warren's article "Hail the chief", posted March 15th on his website:

Saturday, March 11, 2006

More Denials of "The Clash"

By Jacob Thomas

On Sunday, March 5, 2006, the In Depth Program on C-Span2 aired a 3-hour interview and call-in show with Francis Fukuyama. It was a very riveting television show that acquainted us with the titles of the literary works of the professor, such as The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992), and America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy (Yale University Press, March 2006).

It is not my intention to comment on the entire program as it ranged over a variety of subjects. My specific concern is Fukuyama’s views of world history, and his thoughts on Islam.

One of his early statements that caught my attention posited equivalence between Islam and Christianity. As far as I recall, he said something like this: “Seventy years ago, the Christian West had Nazi ideology, while at the same time the Muslim world was more tolerant.”

When asked about his view of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996,) it became quite apparent that he held an opposite view, even when it had to do with the “clash” between Islam and the West.

It was extremely unfortunate that the professor, whose fame has become global, (his End of History has been translated into many languages including Arabic,) juxtaposed the Christian West with Nazi ideology. Adolph Hitler did not base his National Socialism on the Christian tradition. He persecuted all Christians who criticized his policies. How can we ever forget the heroism of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “whose efforts to help a group of Jews escape to Switzerland were what first led to his arrest and imprisonment in 1943? He was hanged in the concentration camp at Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, one of four members of his immediate family to die at the hands of the Nazi regime for their participation in the small Protestant resistance movement.”*

Professor Fukuyama grew up in a pastor’s home, as his father was a minister in the United Church of Christ. In the interview, he said that his father’s theology was liberal. He did not consider himself to be a “practicing Christian.”

Unfortunately, Fukuyama, who said a good deal about Islam and the Middle East, did not evidence a proper knowledge of the history of Islam and its civilization. And yet he persisted in denying “the clash” between Islam and the West, because to acknowledge it would go against his basic philosophical commitment. He must have forgotten the utterly different ways in which Christianity and Islam spread in the world. Nothing in the history of the Church compares with the futuhat (conquests) of Islam in Asia, Africa, and Europe. They began in 632 A.D., first under Arab auspices, and later on, under the leadership of the Ottoman Turks, and continued for centuries.

A basic knowledge of European history would inform us that merely twelve years after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation (1517,) the Turks laid their first siege of Vienna. It was Islam that attacked the West, and not vice versa. And even though Western colonialism dominated most of the Muslim world for some centuries, yet it was neither a total domination, nor a final colonization of that world. On the other hand, most of the lands conquered by Islam have remained under their domination to this very day. It is too bad that a professor, who teaches at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, does not give any attention to the brute facts of history! However, as Roger Kimball reminded us when commenting on “The End of History”:

We have Fukuyama the philosopher, impressively erudite, deeply committed to a neo-Hegelian view of the historical process. This Fukuyama seems to put greater stock in ideas than facts (indeed, one suspects that he would scorn the distinction between ideas and facts as an artificial construct). [Emphasis is mine JT]

Like most world-explaining constructions invented by humanity, Hegel’s dialectic acts as catnip on susceptible souls. Once one is seduced, everything seems marvelously clear and, above all, necessary: all important questions have been answered beforehand and the only real task is to apply the method to clean up the untoward messiness of reality. It is very exciting. “All of the really big questions,” as Fukuyama puts it in his preface, “had been settled.” But the problem with such constructs is that they insulate their adherents from empirical reality: since everything unfolds “necessarily” according to a preordained plan, nothing that merely happens in the world can alter the itinerary.
One of the most serious moral problems with the idea of the End of History is that it implacably transforms everything outside the purview of the theory into a historical “accident” or exception, draining it of moral significance. Hegel’s system tells us what has to happen; what actually does happen turns out not to matter much. Fukuyama admits that “we have no guarantees” that the future will not produce more Hitlers or Pol Pots. **

I turn now to Monsieur le President Jacques Chirac. During his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, he stated: “We must stop all those who fabricate the Clash of the Ignorant” The headline in the online daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat of March 6 proclaimed, “The first Western leader addresses Majlis al-Shura [the newly-organized Saudi approximation to a Parliament]. Chirac declared that France and Saudi Arabia must work together in the war against Irhab (terrorism) and extremism. He went on to say that both countries must stop all those who would create the ‘Clash of the ignorant’ [!] that some call the ‘Clash of civilizations.’”

What a pity that the President of France, having recently experienced some by-products of the Clash, joined in the chorus of its deniers! Has he forgotten one of the earliest pieces of French literature (le Chanson de Roland) that describes the death of Roland, as he fought the Saracens who were attacking France across the Pyrenees?

Finally I am indebted to Martin Kramer’s description of the continued attempts to persist in the denial of the Clash. On Wednesday, March 08, 2006, he wrote:

The West (and Israel) have mocked the prophet—not Muhammad, but Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations. Our elites have spent a decade denying the truth at the core of his thesis: that the Islamic world and the West are bound to collide. Even now, we glibly predict that possession of political power and nuclear weapons will make Islamists act predictably. It all makes perfect sense—to us. But the cartoon affair and the Hamas elections are timely reminders that our perfect sense isn't theirs.

Fortunately, it isn't too late. There is a clash of civilizations, but there isn't yet a war of the worlds. "You do not have God," they say. "God is with us." That is their prayer. But they lack power, resources and weapons. Today they burn flags; a united West can still deny them the means to burn more. It can do so if it acts swiftly and resolutely, to keep nuclear fire out of Iran's hands, and to assure that Hamas fails. ***

The more the denials of the Clash persist, the more it becomes evident that they are not based on a realistic reading of the history of the last 1400 years. They are either politically motivated or springing from philosophical positions that ignore the real world. But a realistic reading of the authoritative texts of Islam: Qur’an, Hadith, and the Sirats of the Prophet, coupled with an experiential knowledge of contemporaneous Islamic history, would make us fully aware of the Clash. What a pity, that so many Western “experts” and “pundits,” keep telling us that it doesn’t exist, or that it is simply a Clash of the Ignorant!


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Christianity in Northern Cyprus Obliterated

In the northern part of the island, occupied by Turkey, the churches have become stables or mosques. The diary of a trip beyond the wall

By Sandro Magister

ROMA, March 9 2006 – The island of Cyprus was the first destination of the “special mission” that the Holy Spirit entrusted to Paul and Barnabas, according to what is written in the Acts of the Apostles, in chapter 13. On the island they found a Roman governor, Sergius Paulus, “an intelligent man who wanted to hear the word of God and believed, deeply shaken by the teaching of the Lord.”

But if Paul and Barnabas were to return to Cyprus today, to the northern part of the island, they would find not the Romans as governors, but the Turks. And instead of a Christianity being born, they would find a dying Christianity, with the churches and monasteries in ruin, or else transformed into stables, hotels, and mosques.

This is documented in a startling report from Luigi Geninazzi, who was sent to Cyprus by “Avvenire,” the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference. Cyprus became part of the European Union on May 1, 2004. But this was true only for the southern part of the island, which is Greek and Christian. The northern part was occupied by Turkey in 1974, with 40,000 soldiers. The Turkish occupation caused death, destruction, and a forced relocation of populations. About 200,000 Greek Cypriots of the Christian Orthodox faith who lived in the north of the island fled to the south. And likewise, the Turkish Cypriots of the south, Muslims, moved to the north.

In 1983 Turkey consolidated the occupation by creating a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is internationally recognized only by the government of Ankara: 180,000 persons live there, 100,000 of whom are colonists originally from Anatolia.

A wall guarded by the blue helmets of the United Nations divides the two parts of the island and cuts through the capital, Nicosia. In April of 2004, the UN placed before a referendum a plan of confederation between the two states, but this was rejected by the Greek Cypriots of the south, who are four times as numerous as the Turkish Cypriots of the north. The Islamization of the north of the island has been concretized in the destruction of all that was Christian. Yannis Eliades, director of the Byzantine Museum of Nicosia, calculates that 25,000 icons have disappeared from the churches in the zone occupied by the Turks.

For a Turkey that aspires to enter the European Union, its actions in the north of Cyprus give a terrible impression of itself. And what it has done in destroying the Christian presence begun by Paul and Barnabas is described in the report that follows, published in “Avvenire” on Sunday, February 26:

"They did not even spare the stone altar..."

By Luigi Geninazzi

Europe ends here, in the most beautiful island of the Mediterranean, torn by a wall that splits it in two. Europe ends abruptly along a barrier of barbed wire, cement, and military turrets that splits Cyprus along its entire width and divides Nicosia, a capital wounded in its ancient heart.
For the UN, which guards over it with its blue helmets, it is the “green line.” But here the people continue to call it the “Attila line,” from the name that the Turks gave to the invasion.

The scourge has left its marks. It has struck Cyprus, the site of the most ancient Christian community on European soil, in its artistic, cultural, and religious treasury: stupendous Byzantine and Romanesque churches, imposing monasteries, mosaics and frescoes of inestimable value. It is a heritage that in the northern part of the island, under Turkish occupation, has been sacked, violated, and destroyed.

To realize this it is enough to cross the “Attila line” at the checkpoint of Nicosia, and there you are in the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which greets the visitor with a large banner on which is written a topsy-turvy welcome: “How happy I am to be a Turk!” (a famous phrase of Kemal Ataturk). The nationalist pride of the descendents of the Ottoman Empire has also modified the natural countryside, carving the crescent moon and the red star on the side of the Pentadattilos Mountains, which dominate the wide plains.

The Turkish flag billows on the façade of the church of Agia Paraskevi, in the once Greek Orthodox village of Angastina. A sign says that work is underway to transform it into a mosque. The bell tower, which no longer bears a cross, is a strange minaret with the loudspeaker of the muezzin fixed upon an archway.

Christodoulos, the young archeologist accompanying me, is visibly shaken: “I was baptized here,” he says in a voice hoarse with emotion. He is one of the 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees who, thirty years ago, lived in the north of the island and were chased out of their homes.
Christodoulos kneels on the spot where he was once baptized and lights a candle. The Turkish construction workers, squatting in front of the apse for their lunch break, look at him curiously: “Every time I come back to this area, it’s always worse,” he sighs.

We stop at Trachoni, where a jewel of the Renaissance once stood, the church of the Panagia, Our Lady. Now only the walls are left; the interior bears the signs of vandalism that has not spared even the stone altar, the pieces of which have ended up in a hole dug recently to search for who knows what treasure.

Ours is a sad pilgrimage that at every stop adds to one’s outrage and disbelief, a via dolorosa that retraces the places of Christian memory at risk of disappearing. At the village of Peristerona, on the road to Famagosta, the medieval monastery of Saint Anastasia (see photo) is being used as a stable, with the cows chewing their cud amid what remains of the ancient cells. The tombs of the cemetery have been profaned, and the gravestones broken.

We leave the countryside behind and go to the coast. Here many of the churches have been turned into restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, for the enjoyment of the tourists. At the top of the rock of Lapethos, which juts out over the sea, the church and convent of Agia Anastasia have become a sumptuous hotel with a swimming pool dug into the cloister, and a casino under the bell tower.

Almost the entire artistic patrimony of the Orthodox Church in the territory occupied by the Turks – 520 buildings between churches, chapels, and monasteries – has been sacked, demolished, or disfigured. Only three churches and one monastery, the monastery of Saint Barnabas, which has been turned into a museum, are in a more or less dignified state.

“The ruin is before our eyes, but the European Union prefers to look the other way,” the Cypriot foreign minister, George Iacovou, bitterly tells us. “The only hope is that, in the course of negotiations for Turkey’s adhesion to the EU, someone might pull out the dossier of shame.”
The Byzantine Academy of Nicosia has gathered detailed and meticulous documentation on the occupied churches in Cyprus. And for two years an attempt has been made at religious dialogue, with the support of the Orthodox bishop Nikiforos of the historic monastery of Kykko: “We have met with the Muslim leaders headed by Lefka, and I told them that respect for our places of worship is the basis for cooperation.” Nikiforos is moderately optimistic: “I encountered a lot of understanding. Errors have been made on both sides; we must overcome the divisions of the past and walk together.”

But the last word belongs to the politicians. Huseyn Ozel, a government spokesman for the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, displays great cordiality with the foreign journalist. The destroyed and sacked churches? “There was a war, and bad things happened on both sides,” he explains. I point out to him that most of the mosques in Greek Cypriot territory have been restored, while his government has authorized the transformation of churches into restaurants and hotels, an insult to the sentiment of believers. “They did this to keep the buildings from falling into ruin, and anyway, these are decisions made by the preceding government, which I do not share,” Ozel counters.

I insist: what do you have to say about the churches that, still today, are being turned into mosques? The Turkish Cypriot functionary spreads his arms wide: “It is an Ottoman custom...”
It is a tradition that, unfortunately, continues. An unsettling calling card for a Turkey that aspires to enter the European club.

The Greek Orthodox bishop: "Europe, intervene!"

An interview with Chrisostomos Englistriota

In Cyprus, the head of the Church has always been an ethnarch, too, a leader of the people. This directly political role was exercised by the famous archbishop Makarios, the charismatic leader of the rebellion against the English domination during the 1950’s, and the first president of the independent republic of Cyprus.

“Our Church doesn’t practice politics anymore, but its authority has not diminished,” recalls the bishop of Paphos, Chrisostomos Englistriota. Since His Beatitude Chrisostomos I was struck by a grave illness, the bishop of Paphos has carried out his functions as leader of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church on the island.

Q: Your Excellency, Cyprus remains divided. Can the Greek Orthodox Church foster dialogue between the parties?

A: “It is a situation that saddens us deeply, the result of a completely illegal military occupation. A true dialogue is impossible, because the Turkish Cypriots do not enjoy any autonomy; the last word belongs to the government of Ankara.”

Q: Are there contacts among the religious exponents?

A: “Some of our bishops have met with the leaders of the Turkish Cypriot Islamic community. It’s important to us to have good relations with them, but then when it comes time to discuss concrete matters, like the problem of the sacking and profanation of our churches, they don’t know what to say, they refer everything to the political authorities.”

Q: Have you tried to raise the question in international circles?

A: “Yes, of course. We have repeatedly turned to the European Union to ask for their intervention. The last time was in the autumn of 2004, after Cyprus entered the EU.”

Q: The results?

A: “Nothing so far. My personal conviction is that the European governments should exert pressure on Turkey, above all in this phase of the opening of negotiations for the entry of Ankara into the Union. But they don’t want to take advantage of this opportunity. And so the more time passes, the more our sacred places in the northern part of Cyprus are falling into ruin. The Turks want to destroy every trace of Hellenism and of Christianity. Only strong international pressure can stop them.”

The newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference in which the report and the interview were published on February 26: “Avvenire”
English translation by Matthew Sherry:
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Sandro Magister’s e-mail address is

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Western Columnists need to do better Homework

By Jacob Thomas

I am prompted to write on this topic after reading an editorial in The Wall Street Journal of February 11, 2006, “Clash of Civilization: The dictators behind those Muslim cartoon protests.” The article began with comments on the violent riots that were going on in the Muslim world over the cartoons that had portrayed Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.

First, I begin with some very worthwhile quotes:

“The Western philosophical tradition is founded on the belief that the execution of Socrates for blaspheming the gods of Athens was an injustice. When British Muslims carry placards reading "Butcher those who mock Islam," they are making their differences with that tradition depressingly plain.
“Yet mass demonstrations almost never represent mainstream public sentiment in the West. Why then should we take it as given that they do among Muslims? Every society has its silent majorities, but it’s only in democracies that those majorities exercise a decisive influence. If Islamic societies seem premodern and violent, this surely has something to do with the fact that most Muslim countries today are places where there is no democracy; where silent majorities stay silent; where, to adapt W.H. Auden, ‘only the man behind the rifle has free speech.’
“Put simply, what we have witnessed isn't the proverbial rage of the Arab street. It's an orchestrated effort by illiberal regimes, colluding with fundamentalist clerics, to conjure the illusion of Muslim rage for their own political purposes. The Iranian mullahs seek to discredit Denmark as it assumes the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, where Iran's nuclear program is being discussed. The secular Allawite regime in Syria wants to shore up its ties with the Sunni religious establishment, especially now that Bashar Assad's former vice president has declared a government in exile. The Saudis want to put behind them the latest stampede at the annual Hajj, where some 350 pilgrims were killed.
“There’s a lesson in this for those who would have us believe that what this cartoon conflagration represents is a conflict of civilizations. There is a conflict all right, not between civilizations, but within one, and it pits those who would make Islam barbaric and those who would keep it civilized. In that struggle, the heirs of Socrates and the heirs of al-Farabi must make common cause.”

This closing paragraph ignored the undeniable historical fact that a clash between Islam and the Western world, has been going on for the last 1400 years. An almost monotonous denial of this subject has increased ever since the publication in 1966, of Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of Word Order. However, ignoring or simply wishing it away does not make it disappear.

Thus, two weeks after reading the WSJ editorial, I noticed in the Kuwaiti online journal, Tanweer (Enlightenment), an article about the late Egyptian Islamist, Sayyed Qutb and his contribution to the intensity of the clash between Islam and the West! So when an informed Arab source acknowledges this historical fact, why not recognize it!?

I would like to remind Western columnists that of all the major world’s religions, Islam has always been, and is still, far more than a religion. One may conjecture that had its founder’s mission been accepted in Mecca, Islam may have remained a purely local Arabian religion. But the Hijra (Migration) to Mecca in 622 A.D., gave Muhammad an opportunity to become the founder and legislator of a new Commonwealth, the Umma of Islam. After his death in 632, his successors, the Caliphs launched the futuhat, the conquests of the world, impelled by a firm belief in the divine right of conquest! Thus from the early years of the seventh century, Islamic imperialism continued to expand in three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe! It was finally checked in Europe at the gates of Vienna in 1683, when the Ottoman Turks failed for the second time, to conquer the capital of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Thus, to ignore that aspect of the history of Islam, and its fundamental ideology of world conquest, does not help us face the global challenge of jihadism during the twenty-first century.

The closing sentence of the editorial merits some further comments. “In that struggle, (i.e. between “those who would make Islam barbaric and those who would keep it civilized”) the heirs of Socrates and the heirs of al-Farabi must make common cause.” These words imply that there is a similarity or equivalence between the historical journeys of Western and Islamic civilizations. But this is definitely not the case. Whereas Western civilization was formed by the appropriation and assimilation of the Greek philosophical tradition, the Roman law, and the Judeo-Christian heritage; Greek philosophy had only a passing and a minimal impact on Islam. Unfortunately, the heirs of the Muslim philosopher, al-Farabi (870-950 A.D.) have been dormant for almost an entire millennium!

This is not to deny that in the early years of the ninth century A.D., Baghdad became the center of learning, and the cultural life of the Arab-Muslim Umma reached its zenith. There was a great deal of freedom for the airing of various theological and philosophical views. Both Muslim and Christian scholars participated in this movement. The impact of Greek culture was great, but according to Dr. Mahmoud, an Egyptian scholar who wrote a great deal on the subject of Arab-Islamic civilization, “only a small group of intellectual elite felt this impact; the masses in Baghdad, and throughout the vast empire, were not influenced by Hellenism.”

For example, a group of intellectuals known as “Ikhwan al-Safa,” freely discussed in their letters some fundamental theological and philosophical topics. We may regard them as Muslim rationalists who sought to reconcile the tenets of Islam with Greek philosophy. With respect to the dating of the Qur’an, they posited the thesis that it was a historical record of Allah’s revelation. This did not meet with the approval of the great legal scholar, imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal who championed the doctrine that the Qur’an was uncreated, therefore eternal! Several Caliphs who were in power at the time, sided with the rationalists, by persecuting and imprisoning Ibn Hanbal. This event in the history of orthodox Islam is known as the “Ordeal of the Qur’an.” Later on, a new caliph sided with the orthodox view, the Imam was rehabilitated, and his teaching about the eternal nature of the Qur’an has prevailed to this day.
The tenth century A.D. proved to be the age of the “Closing of the Muslim Mind.” The person responsible for that “closing” was Al-Ghazzali (died in 1111 A.D.) This great Muslim thinker represents a powerful reactionary force in the history of Islamic thought. His influence on the Arab-Muslim mind and culture was to freeze them in a mold that led to stagnation. In his book, Ihya’ ‘Uloom al-Deen (The Revival of Religious Knowledge), “Al-Ghazzali defined every utterance a Muslim makes, and every step he must take, in order to guarantee the orthodoxy of his Islam. Everything is spelled out for the Muslim: how to eat, sleep, travel, fellowship with one’s wife and child, etc. No room was left for any spontaneity in the Muslim’s life. Al-Ghazzali closed the door of philosophy on the Muslims and it has remained closed for eight hundred years!” *

There were strong attempts early in the last century to “re-open the door of Ijtihad,” but they have all failed. And here we are, one hundred years later and the heirs of al-Farabi do not seem to be much alive, or of influence in the vast world of Islam. On the contrary, it is the orthodoxy of al-Ghazzali that is marching on. Alas, whenever I notice any attempt of some brave Arab intellectuals to champion the cause of democracy and free speech, the reactionary Salafists** rise up to silence them by warning them of the dire consequences of “kufr” (unbelief) within the Islamic Umma.

So, this is my plea to Western columnists: you owe it to your readers to do better homework when writing on this very complex subject of Islam and the West.
*A quotation from the Arabic text of “The Rational & the Irrational in our Cultural Heritage” by Dr. Zaki Naguib Mahmoud. No specific publication date is mentioned in the book; most likely it belongs to the late 1970s.
**Salafist, an Arabic word based on the root salaf, i.e. ancestors. Salafists are those who champion a total commitment to Islamic orthodoxy as defined by the great teachers of the early years of Islam.