Sectsploitation: How to Win Hearts and Minds in the Islamic World

News Abroad
tags: Islam, Muslim

Mr. Furnish’s doctorate is in Islamic history, he works as an author and consultant, and his website is www.mahdiwatch.org

A rational discussion of Islam’s causal role in American “overseas contingency operations”—the erstwhile “global war on terror”--or the multitude of “man-made disasters” besetting the modern world has become almost impossible in the current hyper-partisan American political climate. Many on the Left, who can’t be bothered to actually read a Qur’an, remain blindly convinced that there is nothing intrinsically violent in literalist Islam;[1] that all religions are equally peaceful (except perhaps for Christianity); and that the violent legions around the world engaged in decapitation, assassination and detonation in emulation of Muhammad are actually, unbeknownst even to themselves, motivated rather by something, anything, else: alienation, victimization, anti-Americanism, lack of education, etc. Some on the Left—such as candidate, if not President, Barack Obama—even continue clinging to the myth that “poverty causes Islamic terrorism,”[2] empirical data be damned. Too many on the Right, on the other hand, assume that the history of Islam is coterminous with a history of violence; that the only Muslims that matter are fundamentalist Sunnis motivated by death, domination and the pursuit of houris; and that while there may be a demographic sliver of moderate Muslims, there is no such thing as moderate Islam.[3]

Both are wrong.

President Obama, two months ago, told the New York Times that “the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban.”[4] In the same interview, the President explained further that “If you talk to General Petraeus…part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists.” Leaving aside some rather crucial issues (whether the successful “surge” strategy can be translated directly to Afghanistan;[5] the questionable reduction of Sunni shaykhs in Iraq to mere Islamic fundamentalists; and the misconception that such a thing as a “moderate Taliban” actually exists), the Obama administration is nonetheless on the right track (as was that of Bush, albeit more publicly vocal) in its search for non-jihadist Muslims. In this vein, next month the President will deliver a major speech in Egypt, “seeking to strengthen U.S. relations with the Islamic world and fight extremism.”[6] One key to doing the former is to acknowledge that the Islamic world does have a long theological and historical strain of the latter--based largely on a literal reading of the Qur’an and the Hadiths (alleged practices and sayings of Muhammad)—as well as to identify, contact and support moderate branches of Islam.

Islam is not necessarily literally violent, but much if not most of the time literal Islam IS violent. How could it not be? Sura al-Nisa’[4]:34ff says “those wives from whom you fear rebellion….beat them.” Sura Muhammad [47]:3ff and Sura al-Anfal [8]:12ff say “when you encounter the unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads.” Sura al-`Imran[3]:157ff says “If you should die or be slain in the cause of God…before Him you shall be gathered.” Five different sections of the Qur’an promise “dark-eyed” huris, “bashful virgins whom neither man nor jinn will have touched,”[7] to those who die fighting on Allah’s behalf.

Of course, taken literally the Bible—at least the Old Testament—could promote violence: for example Deuteronomy 7:1ff tells the Hebrews not only to avoid intermarrying with the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, etc., but to “tear down their altars” and “utterly destroy them.” But modern Jewish rabbis and Israeli politicians do not cite such passages to justify violence, not just because these ancient peoples no longer exist but because a literal reading of such verses is no longer accepted, either in scholarship or in the popular mind.

As for the New Testament, it’s impossible to read it literally and condone violence. Matthew 26:52 says Jesus told Peter “put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” Furthermore, Jesus told his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”[8] The Crusades and the Inquisition were rejections of Jesus’ teachings, not fulfillment of them—which is exactly the opposite of the case with Muhammad and jihad. However, there are New Testament passages that, taken literally, are problematic: for example, in Luke 10:19 Jesus told the 70 that “I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions…and nothing will injure you.” There are some tiny Christian denominations that encourage taking these passages literally, even going so far as to handle poisonous snakes during services.[9] But the vast majority of Christians—courtesy of several centuries of Biblical criticism, not to mention application of simple common sense—can put those passages in exegetical and historical context, realizing that what was true for the 12 Apostles and the 70 Disciples two millennia ago, not to mention Jesus Himself, is NOT necessarily binding on us today. Christianity, like Judaism, long ago developed a non-literalist exegetical paradigm, which is adhered to by a majority within each religion.[10]

The same is not true of mainstream Sunni Islam, which makes up some 87% of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslim population. In that majority Muslim community, “the doctrine of taqlid, of adherence to a given legal madhhab,[11] was elaborated into the doctrine that the ‘gates of ijtihad’[12]…had closed in the ninth century” [C.E.].[13] This meant that"the right of ijtihad" -- independent religion-legal reasoning -- was replaced by the duty of taqlid or ‘imitation.’ Henceforth every jurist was an ‘imitator’ (muqallid) bound to accept and follow the doctrine established by his predecessors.”[14] Original ideas about interpretation of the Qur’an were forbidden; only slavish imitation of early Muslim commentators, literalists all, was—and still is, technically—allowed. Thus, a Sunni Muslim confronted with the clear Qur’anic mandate of beheading for infidels on the battlefield cannot advance exegetical arguments that the passage 1) applied only in Muhammad’s time or 2) today is to be read metaphorically as “apologetic decapitation” or the like. The Qur’an reports, you do not get to decide. The ancient school of Mu`tazilism, which did briefly allow for non-literalism regarding the Qur’an, was stamped out in Sunnism.

But while this is the sitation within Sunni Islam, it is not necessarily true within non-Sunni Muslim denominations and sects. Islam is far more variegated than simply Sunnis and Shi`is. There are at least three major divisions of Shi`i Muslims, the largest of which is the Ithna`ashariyah, or “Twelvers,” of Iran, Iraq and Iraq (the others are the Ismai’ilis and the Zaydis), so called because they believe there have been only 12 Imams, or legitimate leaders of the Islamic world, since Muhammad (and that the 12th one, who disappeared in the 9th century C.E., did not die but will return as the eschatological Mahdi).

Because of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s general opposition to the U.S. on the world stage for the last quarter-century—epitomized by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime holding Americans hostage for 444 days, and reinforced by President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying and apocalyptic threats against Israel—many Americans (to include political analysts) lump Twelver Shi`is into the category of “Islamic fundamentalists.” However, Twelvers are anything but fundamentalist, since “Islamic Shi`ite jurisprudence [has been kept] alive and fresh throughout the ages” by “individuals who continuously follow the path of independent judgment, ijtihad….”[15] One example of Shi`i new religion-political thinking is the concept of vilayet-i faqih, “Rule of the Jurisprudent,” which Khomeini developed to put the Twelver clerics in guardanship over the state until the coming of the Mahdi. One may say many things about this political ideology, but it is certainly something new under the sun—quite the opposite of Sunni-style taqlid. And if Twelver Shi`ism allows for new religion-political dispensations that are oppressive and inimical to non-Muslims, it also arguably holds the potential for developing other ideas that are opposed to the literalistic reading of the Qur’an regnant in Sunni circles. Last year, while at the Mahdism Conference in Tehran, I was discussing, with a researcher from the Bright Future Institute (the Iranian quasi-governmental entity which sponsored the conference), the interpretation of the violent passages of the Qur’an. When he told me the jihad passages were not to be taken literally, I replied (somewhat tongue-in-cheek), “but that’s not what the Salafists[16] say.” He replied, somewhat haughtily, “I am talking about TRUE Muslim interpretation.”

While the reformist potential of Twelver Shi`ism remains largely latent, another branch of Shi`ism long ago manifested it. The Isma’ilis, or ‘Seveners,”[17] started out as a violent, revolutionary brand of Shi`ism some 1100 years ago—in fact, one of their branches was the “Assassins”—and evolved into a quietist, mystical form of Islam that teaches the necessity to “enable the believers to go beyond the apparent or outward form of the revelation in search of its spirituality and intellect.”[18] Numbering perhaps 15 million worldwide, the Isma’ilis are headed by the Aga Khan and comprise substantial communities in South Asia (India and Pakistan), East Africa/Yemen, Europe and Canada. Their focus on the batini, “hidden,” meaning of the Qur’an and Islam over against the zahiri, “apparent,” one has enabled them, for example, to adopt a view of jihad in which its primary components are “microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, the promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalisation of historic cities”[19] rather than IEDs, flogging of women and other violent expressions of jihad. One might think Isma’ili communities in Pakistan and Yemen could serve as legitimately Muslim intellectual and social counterweights to the al-Qa`idah types.

On the margins of Shi`i theology and practice are the Alawis of Syria and Lebanon. They make up some 10% of Syria’s population but run the country since both Presidents al-Assad—Hafiz and Bashar—have been Alawi, as is the bulk of the military and intelligence services. The Alawis began over a millennium ago as a Shi`i sect but as the centuries passed developed such heterodox beliefs and practices—divinization of Ali, the first Imam; reincarnation; non-utilization of mosques; drinking of wine—that as long as 700 years ago the famous Sunni cleric Ibn Taymiyah issued fatwas denouncing the Alawis as apostates whom it was lawful to kill.[20]

Because of the political considerations of the al-Assads, Syria under Alawi rule has allied itself with Twelver Shi`i Iran and this has reinforced Alawism’s position as a non-Sunni-fundamentalist, pseudo-Shi`i Islamic cult in which ijtihad is allowed to exist. Despite Damascus’ geopolitical obstreperousness from an American (and certainly Israeli) point of view, one positive aspect of Alawi rule is its decidedly anti-jihadist position; in fact, Hafiz al-Assad crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, and to this day Alawi Syria remains theologically, if not always politically, opposed to militant Sunnism. Were Syria to adopt a less confrontational stance toward its fellow Arab states like Egypt and Jordan, it might be possible for Alawi Arab Syria to serve as an ecumenical bridgehead between those states and the ijtihadistic Islamic Republic of Iran.

Alternatively, Syria—unlike the other two majority-Muslim states on the U.S. State Department’s terrorism sponsors list, Iran and Sudan—is ruled not by its majority (Syria is 75% Sunni Muslim) but by a small, heretical minority, a situation that might very well make for successful religious destabilization operations against Damascus, should the U.S. decide to go that route by, for example, building on the aformentioned Ibn Taymiyah fulminations. The Egyptians, for one, are fed up with what they see as Syrian and Iranian support for Hizbullah cells in their country.[21] How hard would it be for the Obama Administration to persuade the Egyptian government to have al-Azhar, the preeminent seat of Sunni Muslim scholarship, issue new fatwas underlining the non-Islamic nature of the Alawi regime and calling on the Sunni majority to rise up against it?

The fact that the Islamic world is divided into sects offers the West in general and the U.S. in particular a myriad of opportunities to both empower friends and punish enemies. And lest anyone wax too indignant about such imperial meddling by a Christian power in the Islamic world, know that the Muslim Ottoman Empire did exactly the same during the Reformation in Europe. No sooner were Luther’s 95 Theses fluttering in the wind on the Wittenberg church door than the Ottoman Sultan “was aware of and exploited this tear in the fabric of Christendom,” playing off the German Protestant rulers against their own overlord, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and urging them to ally with the French.[22]

Many other Islamic sects could be proffered as moderate—that is, non-literalist regarding the Qur’an—alternatives to Sunnism, including the Druze of Lebanon, Zaydis of Yemen, Alevis of Turkey and the Ibadis of Oman. But the major para-Islamic grouping that has been put forward as a collective alternative to both militant Sunnism and Iranian Shi`ism is Sufism, Islamic mysticism, most notably by Stephen Schwartz.[23]

Sufi orders developed early in Islamic history, similar to mystical movements in Judaism and Christianity, out of a dissatisfaction with mere adherence to Islamic law as a path to Allah and a desire to experience the Divine directly, usually through intensive prayer. Dozens, if not hundreds, of Sufi orders sprang up and many still exist, most notably the: Naqshabandis of South Asia, Iraq and Syria; Qadiris and Tijanis of West Africa; Bektashis of Turkey and the Balkans; Chishtis of India; Salihis of East Africa; etc. While no exact enumeration of their adherents has been done, a conservative estimate is that they number at least 45 million.[24] Schwartz maintains that “Sufis can help Islam and the world by tenaciously maintaining their attitudes of independence, pluralism, [and] respect for other faiths….”[25] But while he also admits that there have been “many incidents of brutality against Sufis,”[26] he glosses over—indeed, largely ignores—the examples in Islamic history of Sufi-led and –staffed violence against other Muslims (and Christians, and Hindus, and Sikhs, and….) over 14 centuries of Islamic history, the most notable of which include: Sayyid Muhammad Jawnpuri, a Chishti Sufi, whose Mahdavis of 15th century CE fought the Gujarat ruler; Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi,[27] a Naqshbandi Sufi, leader of an anti-Sikh and anti-British jihad in 19th century India; Muhammad Ahmad, a Sammani Sufi who led a massive Mahdist jihad against the Ottomans, Egyptians and British and by 1885 took over Sudan; Imam Shamil, the leader of several 19th century North Caucasus jihads against the Russians, who was a Naqshabandi; the “Mad Mullah” of Somalia, Muhammad bin `Abd Allah, a Salihi Sufi who led revolts against the Italians and British until his death in 1920.

Sufism particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the early 20th, provided a ready-made organization and ideology which could all too often be put at the disposal of a charismatic Sufi shaykh convinced that he was on a mission from God. Indeed, this brand of Sufism has not totally dissipated, for earlier this year Naqshabandis from Iraq met the head of Hamas and provided him both ideological finanical support.[28]

But if Schwartz downplays the latent militancy of Sufism, he is exactly right that many Sufi orders and their members are opposed to jihadist Sunnism, not least because the progenitor of the latter—Muhammad b. `Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792), founder of the Wahhabi sect of Saudi Arabia—hated the Sufis and his followers down to today largely retain that attitude. Sufis, like the aforementioned Isma’ilis, distinguish between the literal words of the Qur’an and their intrinsic meaning. As an example of how Sufi Islam can serve as a de facto ally in the war against jihadists, look no further than Somalia, where the Sufi umbrella group Ahl al-Sunnah wa-al-Jama`ah recently came out in support of the Mogadishu government of Shaykh Sharif Ahmad over against the jihadist threat from the al-Shabab organization.[29] Sufis may not pave the road to global harmony, but they certainly present—to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher’s line about Mikhail Gorbachev—“an Islam we can do business with.”

Combining the three branches of Islam explicated in this paper (Isma’ilis, Alawis and Sufis) with the ones mentioned in passing (Druze, Zaydis, Alevis, Ibadis) and neo-Sufi, modernist groups such as the increasingly influential Gülen movement of Turkey, we arrive at a figure of some 90-100 million adherents. This constitutes some 7 or 8% of the world Muslim population—admittedly, a small percentage but a figure probably equal to the hardcore Sunni jihadist ranks. (Add in the Twelver Shi`is and the figure doubles.) This is certainly a large enough slice of the global Muslim demographic pie to to have an effect, were their ideas to gain more prominence and traction in the global ummah (community), in undercutting fundamentalist Sunnism’s claim to sole legitimacy and providing ammunition to those who claim that Islam has been “hijacked” by such Sunnis. Sunni Muslims, by and large, are prohibited from, or simply scared of, telling the Taliban of the world that the very real violent injunctions of the Qur’an do not have to be taken literally. Were the Aga Khan, or Shaykh Hisham Kabbani,[30] to stand up next to President Obama and tell the mullahs of Swat that their wooden Qur’anic literalism was not only dangerous but wrong, we’d know the President had found the true moderate Muslims whom he seeks. And we’d all be the better for it.

[1] One of the foremost purveyors of this ahistorical view is Karen Armstrong (http://www.time.com). But, hard as it is to believe, former President George W. Bush publicly agreed with such sentiments (http://www.jihadwatch.org).


[3] This view is espoused by anti-jihadists such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Dutch legislator Geert Wilders.


[5] Three major differences between Iraq and Afghanistan that might affect the translation of the surge policy are: the latter has a much greater rural/urban population, a much less educated populace, and—most importantly—a large Sunni majority, whence springs the fundamentalist Sunni Taliban (whereas Iraq is 65% Shi`i, a branch not known for its dedication to violent Islam in the same fashion as fundamentalist Sunnism).


[7] The last line, specifically, is from Sura al-Rahman[55]:36ff; the other references are found in Sura al-Naba’[78]:17ff, Sura al-Dukhan [44]:41ff, Sura al-Waqi’ah[56]:8ff and Sura al-Tur[52]:2ff,

[8] Matthew 5:44

[9] In fact, the father of one of my high school friends in Kentucky in the 1970s belonged to such a denomination, and he died from just such a snake bite.

[10] According to sources such as the 2007 “Time Almanac,” and www.adherents.com, Christians number some 2.1 billion, of which a majority consists of non-literalist/fundamentalist churches such as Roman Catholicism (1.1 billion), Eastern Orthodoxy (225 million), Anglicanism (77 million), Lutheranism (66 million), and many other denominations with membership in the low millions each. Biblical literalists of the “fundamentalist” Protestant variety (Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, etc.) are large in real numbers but, world-wide, comprise a minority of the world’s Christian population. Of course, Biblical literalism exists within most, if not all, denominations—but by-and-large it predominates within those Protestant ones that adhere strictly to the concept of sola Scriptura much more than it does where Tradition is accorded a role alongside the Bible. As for Judaism, of the three major branches of the religion—Orthodox, Conservative and Reform—only the Orthodox still adhere to a literal reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, and they make up somewhere between 1/3 and less than ½ of the world’s Jewish population: http://www.jcpa.org. And yes, while there are other factors that determine whether adherents of any particular religion are “moderate” or “extremist,” it is also nonetheless true that Scriptural—Biblical or Qur’anic—literalism is almost certainly the major one and the starting point for analysis.

[11] “School” or “group” of interpretation

[12] “Independent judgment in a legal or theological question”

[13] Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Vol. II: The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), p. 406

[14] N.J. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law (Edinburgh: University Press, 1964), pp. 80ff.

[15] ‘Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’I, Shi`ite Islam (Albany: SUNY Press, 1975), Seyyed Hossein Nasr, trans. and ed., p. 104.

[16] “Salafists” are Sunnis who believe in emulation of the “salaf,” “ancestors” of the the Islamic community who lived in Muhammad’s time. They are, in a very real sense, fundamentalists.

[17] So named because they trace the line of legitimate Imams through fewer, and slightly different personages, than do the Twelvers.



[20] See Yaron Friedman, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Fatawa against the Nusayri-`Alawi Sect,” Der Islam, 87 (2005), pp. 349-363


[22] Daniel Goffman, The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 111

[23] See his book The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony (New York: Doubleday, 2008), as well as Getting to Know the Sufis,” The Weekly Standard, February 7, 2005: http://www.weeklystandard.com

[24] This is extraplolation based on the reasoning by several Islamic scholars that in the early 20th century Sufis comprised ~3% of the entire Muslim population.

[25]The Other Islam, p. 236


[27] This man and his movement should not be confused with Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi (d. 1921), founder of a neo-Sufi, anti-Deobandi movement in South Asia.



[30] Head of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order in America: http://www.naqshbandi.org/

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More Comments:

Jonathan Dresner - 6/10/2009

Both would be good ideas, but we have neither at the moment.

As I said, basic formatting -- italics, bold -- and hyperlinks are what works. I'm honestly not sure how many other tags would work.

Elliott Aron Green - 6/10/2009

Louis P, as a "progressive" or "Communist" or "Marxist," you are not against violence per se, I presume, but only against its use by "imperialists." Firstly, recall that the Communist Soviet Union supported the Jewish struggle against the British empire in the 1940s. That struggle was considered "anti-imperialist" by the USSR and Western "progressives." The USSR did not make a special complaint about the Irgun bombing of a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem that served at the time as British govt offices.

Now you refer to recent events in Gaza. Gaza is filled with all sorts of "non-governmental organization" operatives who are funded by the major world powers, by the European Union, Japan, US, and wealthy Arab oil-producing states. So it seems that the major govts., those that Lenin would have called "imperialist," are --covertly at least-- on the side of the Arabs rather than Israel.

You regard Israel as "a powerful country" trying to impose its will on a "weaker people." Yet the population in Gaza are Arabs, while the Arab League has 22 member states with UN voting rights, and the logrolling advantages that 22 UN votes give them. Further, Arabs vastly outnumber Jews in the Middle East and worldwide. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states can purchase the latest weapons and weapons systems from the major military powers. Fear of losing a Saudi weapons contract is what, apparently, led Tony Blair to call off an investigation of improper kickbacks to Saudi officials by a major British aerospace/weapons manufacturer. Hence, the Saudis can influence internal affairs in the UK. Hardly a weak, uninfluential power.

Meanwhile, Gaza and its Hamas govt are covertly supported by Western govts and other wealthy powers [including oil-rich Arab states] through NGOs, UN Security Council votes, and in other ways. The funding of Gaza and the Palestinian Authority is quite open, although the NGOs pretend to be "non-governmental." As to their funding, check the web site of NGO Monitor.

Louis, according to Lenin's definition of imperialism, finance capital and any large aggregation of capital are imperialist by definition.

As to the Quran and violence, I believe that Prof Eckstein has pointed to verses that do advocate violence. I would only mention 9:29 which calls for forcing non-Muslims ["peoples of the Book"] by violence to pay tribute while humiliated.

art eckstein - 6/10/2009

In other words, NF and I were correct about what Omar said in December 2006, and what his position was.

art eckstein - 6/10/2009

I'll leave it to readers to decide who has presented an accurate version of the sequence of postings in December 2006, and who has presented an accurate version of Omar's position on how the special devotion and patriotism of the Palestinians (i.e., their nobility) is what separates them from other populations who have experienced worse traumas on a larger scale and have moved on without resorting to 60 years of genocidal terrorism.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/10/2009

Tiresome as it is to me, and of course more so to every body else, shall I remind Prof of your, presumably, verbatim quotation of my alleged words that you chose to contain within quotation marks , " ", ie inverted commas as proof of verbatim quote (NOT "AS I REMEMBERERED IT") .

You do know, I hope, the signicance of " "; if you do not then high time for you to know ,PROF!

It was YOU not NF not XY but YOU who made that false allegation in the first place.
NF came in only to rescue you as he usually does and you jumbed on the rescue boat; but it was too late then Prof!
For my part this is the my LAST post on this spefic point and I will leave to the general reader to decide!

art eckstein - 6/10/2009

The only factual correction is that it was NF who made the comparative case, not myself (as I remembered it). I was correcting Professor Dresner on the fact that Omar's comments extolling Palestinian special devotion and patriotism (and if that isn't nobility, what is) occurred, precisely, in the context of a comparison with other populations who had suffered worse but hadn't resorted to genocidal terrorism in response.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/10/2009

An overdue admission that only came out, not out of intellectual integrity, but out of fear to be banned.
Except for Mr Dresner’s threat we would not have had the truth come out!

I hope we will have another "Modest Factual Correction" soon for another one of the Prof's false allegations.( Re: Dreamy History (#134928)
by art eckstein on June 8, 2009 at 10:33 AM )

R. Craigen - 6/10/2009

Thanks Jonathan. For reference, can you point to a page indicating which tags can be used? Many blog sites have such lists but I can't find one here. Also, since typing html tags is highly error-prone, why is there not a corresponding preview and/or edit feature built in here?

art eckstein - 6/8/2009

Dear Jonathan,

I really don't want to get banned, but I do hope you will accept the following modest factual correction.

Despite what you have posted, there was indeed an important comparative argument being made on Dec. 8, 2006 about refugee populations, and their reactions to being made refugees, and it is precisely in the context of that comparison that Omar emphasized special Palestinian patriotism and "devotion", and the employment of violence as a choice (the word "choice" being capitalized by him), inherently in comparison with others who have suffered the trauma of dislocation.

The comparison of other groups' response to similar trauma with the Palestinian response came from N. Friedman, however, not from me (as I had wrongly remembered).

Here is what NF wrote:

Re: So why did Professor Furnish pen this banal, unobjective and truly sub professorial post ?? (#102502)
by N. Friedman on December 8, 2006 at 2:37 PM


...As for the rest of your comment, Palestinian Arabs claiming to be refugees could end their refugee status anytime they like. Or, are you saying that they cannot do what Sudeten refugees did after WWII? Or, for that matter, Muslim refugees from India? Or, for that matter, Hindu refugees from Pakistan?..."

Jonathan, this was the context in which both Friedman and I read Omar's encomium of Palestinian special patriotism and "devotion" (his word), which followed, and his emphasis on Palestinian choice.

Hence while it was indeed my words that Omar thought the Palestinians are "more noble" than those groups listed (by Friedman) which have "moved on"from their trauma, when I asserted that the Palestinians' war against Israel is "a war of choice"--this was a concept with which Omar
gleefully agreed, emphasizing Palestinian special patriotism and devotion, and capitalizing the word "choice", e.g., his post #102569:

Re: So why did Professor Furnish pen this banal, unobjective and truly sub professorial post ??/Hear Hear the ...Prof is BACK (#102569)
by omar ibrahim baker on October 19, 2007 [THIS DATE IS WRONG, as is clear from my response to this posting by Omar, which follows} 2:03 AM
I have promised my self not to indulge in personal abuse reciprocation, mud slinging?, even with people like you who seem to invite it and often fully deserve it.
You make it hard for me to keep my promise.
However the only thing that I have to tell you in this respect re CHOICE is that the Palestinian people including of course Palestinian refugees have consciously made their CHOICE:NEVER to give up on their rights in their homeland Palestine with all that that entails.

I propose you invite Professor Furnish to come and watch some TV shows with you which might inspire either or both of you with something of substance to say and write about for a well earned change by the readers of this forum."

To which I replied:

Re: So why did Professor Furnish pen this banal, unobjective and truly sub professorial post ??/Hear Hear the ...Prof is BACK (#102578)
by art eckstein on December 10, 2006 at 5:15 PM

"Omar's sneering reference to "tv shows" emphasizes once more his refusal to accept that a 29-episode tv series on official Hezbollah tv Al-Manar during Ramadan 2003, which focused on JEWS EATING CHRISTIAN BABIES, was EVIDENCE of Hezbollah anti-semitism. That wasn't "evidence" as far as he was concerned...

He reiterates that it is the Palestinians' CHOICE to destroy Israel. He brought this up in the context of the number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, 1948-1956, which was actually LARGER than the number of Palestinain refugees. He thinks this war of CHOICE to regain what was lost is morally better than the choice of the 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands, who decided to settle in Israel and just begin a new life (or the 2,000,000 German refugees from what is now Poland who did the same in western Germany; or the tens of millions of Hindus from what is now Pakistan who did the same in India). Well, his "noble choice" is interesting morality--an insight into the Muslim mind, I fear.

As I said, given that it is purely that the Palestinians' war is, as Omar says, a war of CHOICE, and especially given their preferred weapons of suicide bombers and indiscriminate rocket-fire, which send a message of genocide (ANY Jew will do, including women, children and babies), my point is that the Palestinians then have NO moral basis to outraged protest when the Jews fight back and inflict casualties upon them in return. NONE. ZERO, etc."

Again, I hope my posting of this modest factual correction won't get me banned. I do think that Friedman and I are correct in our memories of what was being said here, and it was indeed in a comparative context.

N. Friedman - 6/8/2009


I have no intention of doing anything that would get me banned.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/8/2009

None of you has been banned. Yet.

Other commenters however, including some who participate in the same discussions, have.

However, as I said in my email to all three of you, I've examined the comments from that period and found no evidence of the statement in question.

Jonathan Dresner
HNN Editor

N. Friedman - 6/8/2009


One problem with your theory is that, in fact, Professor Eckstein has been making the same allegation over the course of years and you have not generally objected. The second problem is that I recall reading what Professor Eckstein asserts. A third problem was presented by Professor Dresner's explanation that "when a commenter is banned, many times that results in the loss of their comments and all comments in reply." I trust he was not referring to me, since I have never been banned. The same, so far as I know, for Professor Eckstein.

Again, since Professor Eckstein has asserted the very same thing repeatedly - basically, until now, with no serious objection from you -, the least you could do is to tell us your position on the matter at hand. Surely, that is the best thing to do when, given Professor Dresner's statement, there may, in fact, be no way to find the original. In fact, if you have not spoken to the topic, you might enlighten us.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/6/2009

The issue is no longer what my views are BUT your truthfulness Prof and your intellectual integrity.
Friedman as he is bound to is searching for an escape gate for you to no avail since you are on the record, WITH QUOTATION MARKS, fabricating allegations and falsifying my words.

ONLY after you admit to your mal quotation and apologize for your fabrication will I honour Friedman's request, certainly NOT yours which is totally valueless to me.

N. Friedman - 6/6/2009


My recollection is that the discussions related to the displacement of people. Omar's position was - or, at least, his words seemed to state - that while other displaced nations moved on after being displaced, the Palestinian Arabs adopted a purere - or maybe, more moral or, as Art notes, noble - position of standing their ground and never accepting what had occurred. I believe this was expressed by him on more than one occasion - including, as Art says, in response to comments by Fahrettin, who had reminded Omar about the many Muslims pushed out of what Fahrettin sometimes calls European Turkey. Fahrettin's position is that one moves on with life while Omar's position is that one never accepts such events.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/6/2009

I don't suppose Mr. Friedman or Mr. Eckstein could remember the subject of the article which prompted the discussion?

The closest I've been able to find is:
Mr. Eckstein is the one who uses the term "noble" and there is no comparative discussion, so it's not quite the same as what's being asserted here.

Unfortunately, when a commenter is banned, many times that results in the loss of their comments and all comments in reply; there is no simple way to search through the unpublished comments (or even to identify them), so I can't help further.

art eckstein - 6/6/2009

N.F. and myself have testified to what Omar said back in the autumn of 2006 on ths issue. The position that other people who suffered similar or worse traumas, on similar or worse scales, did not adopt genocidal terrorism as a response, they were "less honorable" than the Palestinians.

We'll see what he says now to the same question.

But I want to add the following:

Palestinian genocidal terrorism against Israeli civilians began in 1954 and 1955 from Gaza, which was then under Egyptian administration and was in fact claimed as part of Egypt. These were the "fedayeen". Nonie Darwish, whose father was one of the organizers of the original fedayeen at that period, has written about the vicious anti-semitism that was rife in Palestinians' education at that time.

In this same period, the mid-1950s, fedayeen were striking at civilians from the West Bank, which was then under Jordanian administratin and which was in fact claimed as part of Jordan.

Point: this mode of conduct began early in the conflict (indeed, it began with the behavior of the Jihad Army of al-Amin al-Husseini in late 1947), and by the mid-1950s was backed in Gaza by an entire structure of anti-semitic education.

This backs up the thesis that genocidal terrorism, far from being a "natural reaction to trauma", was a Palestinian cultural choice. This is what Omar indicated when he said that other groups who had suffered similarly or worse traumas but had not resorted to genocidal terrorism were "less honorable" than the Palestinians.

art eckstein - 6/6/2009

Yes. Omar what IS your view?

You attempt to "naturalize" Palestinian genocidal terrorism against Israelis (and Jews in general--cf. the attacks in Istanbul or Buenas Aires, which killed dozens of innocent civilians). You naturalize it as a response to the terrible trauma of the Nakbah.

(You ignore the fact that the Palestinians started the war of 1947-1948 to begin with, of course and you present the fleeing of the Palestinians as an ethnic cleansing from beginning to end, which it was not. There was indeed some ethnic cleansing when the war was at its height--on both sides. But, for instance, the Christian Palestinians fled because they feared the consequences of a Muslim victory, and the leadership stratum of the Palestinians fled voluntarily).


12 million Germans were expelled from eastern Europe at the end of WWII, 1 million died, almost a million women were raped. These figures are on a far huger scale than the Nakbah. These Germans can never (by law in eastern European countries such as Poland and Czech Republic and Romania) return. These people lost everything, and spent years in dismal displaced persons camps. But you don't see these Germans or their descendants blowing up discoteques filled with civilians in Warsaw.

7 million Hindus were expelled or fled from Pakistan in 1947-1948: that's TEN times the number of Palestinians involved in the Nakbah in the same exact period. They lost everything. But you don't see these Hindus or their descendants blowing up university dining halls in Karachi.

850,000 Jews were expelled from Muslim lands between 1948 and 1960. This is 100,000 MORE victims than the Nakbah. These Jews lost everything, became penniless, and those who went to Israel spent years in dismal displaced-persons camps. Some Muslim is enjoying their property as we speak, but this is never a public issue. The difference between these people and the Palestinians is that they didn't attack their neighbors in a war. But you don't see these people or their descendants blowing up grocery-stores filled with shoppers in Tunis.

300,000 Greeks were expelled from Egypt in the mid-1950s, and a further 50,000 Greeks were expelled from northern Turkey: classic religious and ethnic cleansing. Many of these people had lived in these regions for 2,500 years. They hadn't attacked their neighbors in a war; they arrived in Greece penniless; they spent years in dismal displaced-persons camps, and some Muslim is enjoying their property as we speak, and this is never a public issue. But you don't see these people or their descendants blowing up busses filled with schoolchildren in Ankara.

As Fahreddin pointed out to you, a significant portion of the current Turkish population consists of refugees from the Balkans, and especially Greece. They arrived penniless, and remain bitter. But you don't see these people, or their descendants, trying to blow up busses filled with civilians in Athens. He urged the Palestinians to give up genocidal terrorism and make a deal.

So, it is clear that we must not "naturalize" Palestinian genocidal terrorism. We must, on the contrary, problematize it. When I presented this issue to you back in the autumn of 2006, your explanation--and N.F. backs me up as a witness to what you said--was that these people were less honorable than the Palestinians. Is that your position?

N. Friedman - 6/6/2009


For what it is worth, I remember reading exactly what Art claims you wrote.

That does not mean that such language accurately expressed - or expresses - your views or that, in the obversely, your views were correctly understood by what was read by both Art and me. So that there is no confusion about your views, tell us your views on the subject at hand rather than call Professor Eckstein a liar, which is he not.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/6/2009


omar ibrahim baker - 6/6/2009

Evidently Prof if you consider, as you seem to , that documenting one's allegation, ie substantiating them, is "absurd and useless" (Omar demanded I do something absurd and useless) " then every thing goes and you can go on fabricating and extrapolating to your heart's content as you normally do.

That is as good a gauge as any to appraise both your "scholarship" and your intellectual integrity.

Be that as it may: the challenge stands and you are branded as a LIAR.

Until of course you find that nonexistent phrase " not as noble" in ” Omar's answer to these facts was that these populations were "not as noble" as the Palestinians"".(Note the inverted commas , the quotation marks, denoting a verbatim quotation ) in which case I would be the LIAR and apologize!

N. Friedman - 6/6/2009

Mr. Craigen,

Well, I hold Dr. Furnish in very high regard. His book on the Mahdi in Islamic history is a work of fine scholarship.

However, I think the issue of literalism, with reference to religion, usually amounts to nonsense. Those who advocate literalism (e.g. among some Christians) do not have a literal interpretation. They have an interpretation.

Islam is a religion that makes law paramount - in that way it is like Judaism. Once the law plays such an important role, the idea of literalism is pretty impossible. On the other hand, I think that Dr. Furnish is quite right that the gate of interpretation closed for the Sunni world - which is not to say that there were no shifts in thinking after the 9th Century but, rather, there were no major shifts and the shifts that occurred are not generally acknowledged to be shifts.

One important shift that Professor Lewis notes in many of his books is that the expectation which, at one time was real, that Islam could really conquer the world faded when the facts showed such to be impossible. I think that today there is somewhat of a shift back to the early view - that conquering the world may somehow be possible - at least for the more radical elements. Fervor towards that goal gets a lot of people killed. On the other hand, fervor tends to run out after one or two generations. So, hopefully we shall all be around to see the fervor fade.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/6/2009

You can use many html tags already, including basic formatting and links. The auto-conversion of http addresses is, as you note, not always successful.

Also, there are several scholars who've studied the links between Zen and militarism, but the best known is probably Brian Victoria. There's been some work on the connections between the Zen Heideggerian Kyoto School (esp. Nishida Kitaro) and ultra-nationalism, but I can't bring any one scholar to mind at the moment. You could start here if you want some reading.

Jonathan Dresner
HNN Editor

R. Craigen - 6/6/2009

Omar, let me suggest you demonstrate the way to "Atone for past crimes":

As we all know, one cannot "atone" for a crime until one first admits that it is.

You could lead the way, as a sign of goodwill, by preparing a boilerplate apology, on behalf of the Islamic world, for the crime sometimes characterized as "Great Jihad" that ran for 400 years prior to the crusades, brutally overrunning much of Europe, central Asia and North Africa, lands that were generally not, prior to being attacked, aggressive or antagonistic to the Arabs or Islam, and which, in a very real and tangible sense, is where the ball began to roll down the hill that has led to where we are today. All else has been back-and forth grievance and response.

Of course, your apology cannot truly be the apology of the entire Islamic world for the fallout of its imperialistic, supremacist ambition, but it would be, to some of us, at least a meaningful symbolic gesture.

If you can't do that rather obvious apology, why do you expect the Americans to apologize for taking out despots, installing democracy, and spending thousands of American lives and billions of American dollars trying to restore peace to Islamic lands?

R. Craigen - 6/6/2009

This is very interesting Naresh. Do you have some sources for these things? It does fit in somewhat to Furnish's thesis, but perhaps you should add a bit explaining how you see it tying in, and what it illustrates in terms of potential changes to foreign policy? While this seems very specific, it illustrates nicely the kind of unaligned Islamist movement I believe complicates the problem of developing a coherent strategy for relating effectively to a rapidly changing Islamic world. Information like you share here, if accurate, should become part of the larger picture.

R. Craigen - 6/6/2009

Note: That link should be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Shinto
(The comment editor here is helpful but its support for links will include characters abutting an included URL ... helpful to know for future reference. Webmaster: how about setting up a way to use a small set of HTML tags?)

R. Craigen - 6/6/2009

Louis, two things.

First, what sort of antireligious foolishness leads you to believe that some generic, but unspecified "scholars" have linked Japanese (WW II era, presumably) militarism to Zen Buddhism?

For your information, the dominant religion in Japan at the time was Shinto -- a variety called "State Shinto" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Shinto). Not Buddhism. Shinto is polytheistic, Buddhism agnostic. State Shinto is militaristic, Zen Buddhism pacifistic.

The Allied Powers, after Japan surrendered, enforced a strict suppression of State Shinto. Mind you, not SHINTO -- only STATE Shinto, for it was this vicious dogma that was, indeed "linked to militarism".

Non-political shinto was left completely untouched. The allies compelled the Japanese to write separation of (Shinto) "church" and state into Japan's 1947 constitution. This was, apparently, a brilliant move, and highly effective, for, as anyone will attest, the imperialistic, supremacist Japan of the State Shinto days are gone today and Japan is a free liberal democracy at peace with its neighbours and the Japanese people, 120 million of whom still practise the (non-state) Shinto religion, are as generous and pluralistic as anyone.

It is idiots who insist on painting all religions with a single brush who miss the distinctions upon which today's world is likely to stand and fall.

In his article Dr. Furnish has been looking at a couple of such useful distinctions, but I'll bring out another: Are you aware, Louis, of the distinction between "Islamism" and "Islam"? It may be that your children and grandchildren's welfare may depend on our society coming to grips with exactly this.

Islamism is sometimes called "political Islam". There is a strong analogy between the two pairs Islamism/Islam and State Shinto/Shinto. But Shinto is a very young and pliable system of belief. Islam is not. In its political form, which is on the rise world-wide, it is quite a serious force to be reckoned with. There is too much to say about this distinction than can be said here, but perhaps the following will suffice:

(a) While the Islamic world struggles against the forces of Islamism in (for a variety of examples) Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, and well understands the distinction, one of the rhetorical devices of the Islamist movement(s) is simply to deny the distinction: "We are the true embodiment of Islam; all else is apostacy". You needn't read much of Qaradawi, Khomeinei, Qutb, Zawahiri or Bin Laden to perceive this, but what many westerners don't understand is that they have a strong case that goes to the roots of Islam, which is why the Islamic world is engaged in such a struggle.

Islamists in the West like to blur the distinction as a way of shutting down open analysis (like that by Furnish) of Political Islam, labelling anyone who speaks knowledgeably on the subject "Islamophobic", invoking Western liberal categories like "racism" and "cultural genocide" to attempt to win protection from criticism for their political activities.

It does not help matters that Western "useful idiots" play into the Islamist agenda by agreeing to refuse to make this distinction and to join in the use of charges of bigotry to shut down discourse.

Louis, if our society lumps all muslims together by failing to make this distinction, then the choices will not be pretty (to say the least) when the Islamist/Jihadist strand controls atomic weapons in Pakistan, Iran or Syria and the west is finally forced to act in defense.

Scholars like Furnish are struggling with practical ways of using proper scholarship of Islam to delineate appropriate distinctions and categories. Flapping on about the potential dangers of Zen Buddhists and treating all religion in a one-size-fits-all fashion is just counterproductive idiocy.

Second, you say "Iran has never invaded other countries while Israel treats national boundaries in the Middle East in the way that a man with diarrhea treats toilet paper." That's a remarkable (and foolish) statement. By its proxy (Hizbollah) there Iran has now just about finished its takeover of Lebanon. It is threatening several potentially violent takeovers of neighboring territories. The UAE-owned Island of Abu Musa (look it up!) is just one case in point. Their ambitions go further, but it isn't simply "Nationalistic" ambition -- Khomeinei famously said that he would be happy for Iran to be totally obliterated in the upcoming conflagration, as long as "the Islamic Nation" (ie, worldwide Islam) was victorious (ie, subjugated all the unbelievers). If you understand this you'll know that the national categories in which you deal are simply the wrong dimension in which to be thinking about "real" threats to world peace.

But what is this silly canard about Israel "invading other countries"? Which countries has it "invaded"? This is HISTORY News Network, not FANTASY News Network, you know. Israel has, indeed, occupied territory formerly used by its enemies. But if you are referring to land in Palestine, you can't be referring to a "country". What country? "Palestine" has steadfastly refused that option, its leaders so far preferring mere non-national territorial status until they accomplish the obliteration of Israel.

But that's only a minor point.

The major point is this: To the extend that Israel has military forces sitting on lands formerly occupied by other nations, such as the Golan heights or Gaza strip, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, Louis, these are occupied not because Israel invaded anyone, but because they were, themselves, invaded by aggressive neighbors bent on annihilating their fledgeling nation and/or the Jewish people. These lands were occupied as a defensive maneuver, which has proven quite effective, and will hopefully be maintained until there is little danger of this type of aggression being repeated.

Israel is a threat to nobody except invading aggressors and those who seek to destroy her. In this respect she is no different from Switzerland. You should know why Switzerland has been able to stay out of so many major wars that completely engulfed her: She is armed to the teeth. The Swiss defensive measures, with tunnels through mountainous regions, booby-trapped highways and universal conscription to maintain a well-equipped standing army, and their terrain, has simply made it cost-ineffective to invade them. The only difference between the two states in this regard is that the neighbors of Switzerland weren't stupid enough to mess with her.

There is a saying that rings true in Middle East politics, Louis: "If the Arab neighbors of Israel laid down their weapons today ... there would be peace in the region tomorrow; if Israel laid down her weapons today ... there would be no Israel tomorrow" (and, I add, likely few Jews left alive).

Got any more bridges to sell?

R. Craigen - 6/5/2009

Mr. Friedman, you correctly understood my flagging the term "literalism" as a key to Dr. Furnish's article, and ignoring this distinction, his critics are, as you say, playing games and not addressing his actual points.

I also agree, for the most part, with your difficulties concerning the use of the word "literalism" and "literal" in the article. I think Dr. Furnish was abbreviating, and got careless in his use of the word. Another mitigating (and, simultaneously, exacerbating) factor is that the term is rendered essentially meaningless in that it is taken to mean so many different things in common discourse, like the word "fundamentalist", to the point that two people can agree in a conversation, unaware that they are arguing contradictory points or disagree although they are essentially in agreement.

Furnish also acknowledges that "literalism" doesn't entail violent or extremist application of Islam; nor does "nonliteralism" indicate pacific or pluralistic application. I think, for the purposes of his article, I would have ditched this category. I know why he wants to focus on literalism but I don't think it's helpful because there are too many exceptions to the conclusion he'd like to draw about it.

It is generally understood that the Protestant Reformation was highly influential in curtailing the worst excesses in the Roman Catholic church, but if one were to weigh the two on this scale one would have to place Protestantism on the "literalist" side (particularly in the days of the reformation) with Luther's "sola scriptura" principle, etc., whereas Catholicism placed the authority of the church on par with or above that of scripture.

If one then looks at the Second (i.e., Anabaptist) Reformation one sees the same correlation. If the Lutherans were "somewhat literalist" the Anabaptists were extremely so -- and at the same time extremely pacifist, and extremely pluralistic (the "pluralistic" business fell by the wayside as persecution became high-pitched -- with no option of meeting violence with violence Anabaptists fell into cloistered communities and separated from general society; in some sects this lifestyle still dominates, as you know).

Similar things could be said about the Islamic world (and Furnish has said them; I won't pretend he's said otherwise). Are not the peaceful Ahmadiyya literalists? And are not the nonliteralist Sufi's, in spite of their supposed reputation for pacifism, actually the initiators of some of the bloodiest events in the history of Islam (and in our present world -- the aggressors in the recent infamous "Mohammed teddy bear" incident, I note, were Sufis).

I think a case could be made that Dr. Furnish's piece has the kernel of a good idea -- and I think more work like it, that moves toward intelligent proposals for meeting the challenges of the Islamic world, are worth pursuing. But perhaps it would help if he reworked this piece, slicing the pie slightly differently.

R. Craigen - 6/5/2009

I can't glean anything worth replying to from your comment, Omar, it is incoherent.

Would you please document these apparently nefarious meetings to which you vaguely allude and demonstrate for us how Iraq's oil resources have been "carved up"?

What is this "pre-conquest" business? Iraq was not "conquered" but liberated from a violent, totalitarian despot. Immediately control was returned to the Iraqi people who elected a government in open elections. Today the allies are in Iraq in partnership with that government, and subject to their invitation and approval.

Your talk of "conquest" and "occupation" is fatuous nonsense ungrounded in reality. There aren't even enough allied troops in the country to "occupy" it in any meaningfully sense, and they are certainly not spread widely enough to do so. Your fantasies about evil American overlords don't jive with the massive reconstruction and development expenditures the Americans are making in the country.

N. Friedman - 6/5/2009


Do you really think that Omar would admit to your assertions, even if you go and find the post?

More importantly, none of this has anything to do with Tim's rather interesting article. One poster, you will note, took up Tim's use of the language "literalist" in an attempt to show that Omar is playing games - which, of course, Omar is. Perhaps Omar has some insight on religious interpretation that does not consists entirely of bashing the West, Israel, the US, etc..

In any event, Tim has Shia' Islam in a non-literalist category. Yet, that non-literalist group strongly perpetuates, to our time, the Jihadist ideology that he associates with the Sunnis. Note that Ayatollah Khomenei wrote an article titled "Islam Is Not a Religion of Pacifists" in which he wrote:

Islam's jihad is a struggle against idolatry, sexual deviations, plunder, repression, and cruelty. The war waged by [non-Muslim] conquerors, however, aims at promoting lust and animal pleasures. They care not if whole countries are wiped out and many families left homeless. But those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation. For they shall live under [God's law].

I would also take issue with the view, if this is what Tim really means, that Jihad fi sabil Allah (i.e. Jihad in the path of Allah, i.e. Jihad as war) arises from a literal reading of the Qu'ran - although there is certainly mention of Jihad as war therein. I think it instead arises from the system of interpretation that arose in the early years of Islam, most particularly as embodied in the ahaditha, as read in view of the success of the early Muslim conquests. In this regard, I highly recommend Professor David Cook's book Understanding Jihad.

Now, that is not to exonerate anything. It is merely to note that the Qu'ran could be understood rather differently - as Tim rightly indicates -, most particularly if the rolling revelation doctrine and its corollary, the doctrine that what comes later effectively cancels contradictory revelations that occurred earlier were not as widely accepted. These are not, as I see them, necessarily literalist doctrines, although there is apparently language in the Qu'ran that points to such an interpretation. Of course, as a matter of logic, a system of interpretation cannot be self-contained. Then again, we are speaking about religion and religion is not a system of logic.

I might note lastly that no religion is really literalist. I do not see how that is even possible.

I think, lastly, that Tim's comment about Orthodox Judaism being literalist is simply mistaken. Orthodox Judaism is based in large part on the interpretation given to texts by the rabbis, most particularly as embodied in the Talmud and other such texts.

art eckstein - 6/5/2009

Omar demanded I do something absurd and useless for him, but which would take a large amount of my time--namely, searching down a quote by him which he has never denied in the past three years.

I in return demanded that if I am to spend the large amount of time required to comply with this absurd demand, that he too should spend the time to do something much more valuable--actually to do some reading on 1947-1948 from work by a world-renowned scholar.

He refuses the challenge. So be it. We know who is telling the truth now and who is not, who is reasonable and who is not.

As if we did not know this before.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/5/2009

Thus spake the Prof of the many and varied awards:
" You read and summarize for me Benny Morris' article on Deir Yassin, "The Historiography of Deir Yassin," Journal of Israeli History 2005. If you do that, then I will"

I like very much the "for me" in :"You read and summarize for me "

I also like, better?, the " then I will" in "If you do that, then I will"

Will WHAT Prof ??

omar ibrahim baker - 6/5/2009

A reading list proposed by the multiawarded Prof Will NOT,of course, be turned down because of him .
Why should I account to any body and particularly to him, of all people?

Childish and inane request as it is ;the effort though is to drive attention away from his fabrications and his inability to substantiate his allegations, 99 % false,nor meet a direct challenge to his truthfulness. The most recent being:
(" The Professor claims that:"
Omar's answer to these facts was that these populations were "not as noble" as the Palestinians".
The Prof is a shameless LIAR until he proves I said this and that these were my words ( note the inverted commas) in which case I will be the LIAR and I will apologise ")

John Connally - 6/4/2009

...only then will omar embrace america as his brother... right?

art eckstein - 6/4/2009

Louis, the issue raised in Furnish's article is a religious one, and it includes the religious roots of Muslim imperialism.

You tried to "naturalize" the issue by essentially claiming "all religions advocate bloody imperialism in their ideology". They don't. A large section of the Muslim population (not everyone) does, however, interpret Muslim religious ideology to require the conquest by force and the conversion of the non-Muslim world.

But instead of "naturalizing" the widespread and intentional Muslim ultraviolence against innocent civilians, ultraviolence which is explicitly and emphatically proclaimed as motivated by Muslim religious belief (against Catholics in the Philippines, against Protestants in Nigeria, against Hindus in India, against Muslims of slightly different faith in Iraq and Pakistan and Iran, against Jews everywhere), we must--for the sake of proper analysis of what is going on--problematize that intentional Muslim ultraviolence against innocent civilians.

This you refuse to do, allying yourself with men from the Dark Ages so you can ride your anti-western hobbyhorse.

As for Iran never invading anyone, the northwest THIRD of Iran consists of Turkish Azeris, not Persians. The Turkish Azeris are a colonized people, and there are periodic riots in Tabriz.

art eckstein - 6/4/2009

I have asserted that Omar said this back in autumn 2006, and I have asserted many times over the past three years that he said this statement, I've asserted it directly to him (not when talking to others about him), asserted it over and over, and each time with great emphasis, in a direct conversation with him. He's never denied it--until, suddenly, now.

This is alraedy enough, given these circumstances of my repeating this statement of his to him in conversations with him, and his hostile attitude towards me, that I'm telling the truth about what he said. So here's the challenge: Omar--

1. You read and summarize for me Benny Morris' article on Deir Yassin, "The Historiography of Deir Yassin," Journal of Israeli History 2005. If you do that, then I will

2. Spend the large amount of time necessary to go through the hundreds and hundreds of entries of yours from autumn 2006 and put up your quote on this thread.

But if you DON"T take the bet, you are admitting (a) that you don't want to read actual scholarship on 1947-1948, based on archival research as well as intervies with both Jews and Palestinians, but instead you prefer your Islamic anti-semitic websites as sources of "information"; and/or (b) you well know that I will find the quote--as I HAVE FOUND EVERY OTHER QUOTE OF YOURS WHICH YOU HAVE CHALLENGED ME ON-- and thus prefer to drop the challenge.

That's the bet.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/4/2009

Four posts from the multiawarded Prof and he can NOT prove nor document that I said such a thing.
His only "defense" is that I did NOT challenge it before which is utterly childish but becoming of him.
My challenge :
(" The Professor claims that:"
Omar's answer to these facts was that these populations were "not as noble" as the Palestinians".
The Prof is a shameless LIAR until he proves I said this and that these were my words ( note the inverted commas) in which case I will be the LIAR and I will apologise ")
still stands .

Louis Nelson Proyect - 6/4/2009

The difference between Christians and Muslims is that when Christians engage in imperialist violence, this is a violation of the basic precepts of the religion. But when Muslims engage in imperialist violence they are *fufilling* (some of) the basic precepts of the religion.


This distinction is lost on me. Who cares if a country decides to make war based on a holy text that advocates conquest or one that is based on respect for fellow men. Actions speak louder than words. In fact scholars have even linked Japanese militarism to Zen Buddhist texts.

When a country goes to war, it needs some kind of ideological excuse. As Phil Ochs put it, they need to prove that god is on their side.

But if actions speak louder than words, then Israel is far more dangerous than Iran. Iran has never invaded other countries while Israel treats national boundaries in the Middle East in the way that a man with diarrhea treats toilet paper.

art eckstein - 6/3/2009

Again, I repeated your famous remark in a direct May 13, 2008 conversation with you--again no objection or protest from you; you changed the topic.

art eckstein - 6/3/2009

Again, I repeated your famous remark, in a May 27, 2008 conversation with you--again no objection or protest from you.

art eckstein - 6/3/2009

You also didn't deny saying the statement when I repeated your statement in aa conversation On Jan. 28, 2009, emphasizing it as a "famous" interchange.

You just changed the subject to who started the war of 1947/1948...

art eckstein - 6/3/2009

Gee, Omar--you've never denied this statement BEFORE--never. Take a look, for instance, at our conversations on Nov. 22 and Nov. 23 2008. I repeatedly say that you said this; you don't raise an objection, you just change the subject. I do note in that coversation that "Omar has a convenient habit of sometimes forgetting what he said."

The original statement by you was in the autumn of 2006.

art eckstein - 6/3/2009

No, Omar: these are similar traumas, not the same.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/3/2009

The, very rare, importance of what the Prof has to say is his unconscious admission and acceptance of plain facts that he normally disputes.
In this case, in his slight correction, the unchallengeable historical fact that the Zionists actually DID undertake an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Palestinians.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/3/2009

Evidently R you are unaware that even imperialism developed, progressed to you ?, from what seems to be not only your favourite definition but also your favourite mode of international relations.
Had you been aware of the pre conquest meetings of oil and state (US and UK)principals for the carve up of Iraqi oil resources you might have added something to your historical model and primitive historic knowledge.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/3/2009

The Professor claims that:"
Omar's answer to these facts was that these populations were "not as noble" as the Palestinians".
The Prof is a shameless LIAR until he proves I said this and that these were my words ( note the inverted commas)in which case I will be the LIAR and I will apologise.

art eckstein - 6/3/2009

The expulsion of 300,000 Hindus from Uganda by the Muslim dictator Idi Ami (who later found an honored refuge in Saudi Arabia) was of course not pre-1960; it was in 1972. Okay--pre-1960 we can also add the expulsion of 50,000 Pontic Greeks from northern Turkey, a classic ethnic cleansing of a population that had lived in that region for 2,500 years. None of the Pontic Greeks or their (bitter) descendants blow up busses filled with civilians in Ankara.

art eckstein - 6/3/2009

1. The israeli Gaza operation did not intentionally target civilians. Most of those killed (1000 or so out of 1400) were Hamas operatives, not civilians. It is very unfortunate that 400 civilians were killed, but the primary responsibility lies with Hamas, who intentionally embedded itself in a civilian popuation and used them as human shields.

I never applauded Qana. I said they were accidents.

By contrast, the Sbarro Massacre, the Passover Massacre, the Bus Massacres, and all the dozens of other massacres, were intentional PA and Hamas terrorist attacks on innocent civilians.

2. Omar seeks to "naturalize" terrorism as a natural reaction to trauma. But we've been here before. I cited five cases of populations which had suffered similar traumas or worse traumas and on a similar or larger scale than the Nakbah, all in 1945-1960 (the 12 million displaced Germans from E. Europe; the 7 million displaced Hindus from Pakistan; the 850,000 displaced Jews from the Middle East; the 300,000 displaced Greeks from Nasser's Egypt; the 300,000 displaced Hindus from Idi Amin's Uganda), and showed that *none* of these traumatized populations (which included one MILLION dead among both the Germans and the Hindus) had engaged in terrorism as a response to the trauma.

Omar's answer to these facts was that these populations were "not as noble" as the Palestinians. In other words, genocidal terrorism is not a natural reaction to trauma; it is a Palestinian cultural choice.

Well, the Palestinians have to live with the consequences of such a cultural choice--they have to live with the consequences of their terrorism. Some of these are positive: e.g., lots of international recognition. But a lot of these are negative (including Palestinian terrorism against Palestinians, as part of a violent and morally degenerate Palestinian political culture). And two recent consequences of Palestinian genocidal terrorism are (1) the anti-terrorism fence and wall (a consequence of the Second Intifada), and (2) Operation Cast Led in Gaza (a consequence of shooting 6,000 rockets from Gaza at Israeli civilian populations).

Fahreddin pointed this latter point out to Omar a month or so ago, when urging that terrorism be abandoned and compromise with Israel accepted.

art eckstein - 6/3/2009

Excellent points, Mr. Craigen.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/3/2009

The question paused by Professor Furnish was a simple and straight forward question:
" How to Win Hearts and Minds in the Islamic World?? "

Despite his failure, or unwillingness, to reach the only reasonable answer the question still calls for a simple and straight forward answer:

The answer:

A-Atone for past crimes and huge mistakes as in, in chronological order:

1-US acquiescence and support of the Anglo/French colonialist carve up of the Middle East of Sykes-Picot
2-The empowering of Israel into regional super power
3- The destruction of Iraq.

B-Desist in the future from pursuing these policies or from committing new similar crimes.

R. Craigen - 6/3/2009

Omar asks: "Would you, or would you NOT describe the US/UK & Co invasion of Iraq, less than five years old, as an imperialist conquest??"

Absolutely not an imperial conquest, Omar. Not even close!

If you think this is an imperial conquest you have NO idea what imperialism is. Iraq is currently a sovereign country with free elections. Both the UK and the US are pursuing timelines to pull out. Imperialists don't "pull out".

If this were an imperial conquest, what would happen?

1. There would have been a constitution or other defining document that would give the invading overlords absolute control over the government. Um, no. The Iraq constitution contains a number of elements that are very much contrary to the desired direction the country should take, by UK/US standards. At the top of this list is the stipulation that all laws in the country must conform to sharia law. An imperialist power would have simply said "Sorry guys, you're going to play by our rules, and Sharia ain't it!"

2. Imperialists would fly their flag above that of the subjugated country, in their government, at all Iraqi national events, etc. Any sign of that over there?

3. An imperial power would simply take over all national resources. In Iraq this means, of course, oil. What a tragedy if Iraq loses its oil to these greedy, exploiting "invaders"! Well, that's what the standard narrative says. But in fact, one of the first acts of the western forces in Iraq was to stabilize the oil facilities and turn them over to the new interim government. They is currently being run under the control of an Iraqi government agency; the Americans cannot simply walz off with Iraqi oil -- they pay the going rate, and this is a major source of revenue for the fledgeling government. The Western powers deliberately set this system in motion to provide the new Iraqi government with the resources and revenue necessary to eventually become independent -- "imperialists" working themselves out of the job of being evil overlords, if you will.

4. An imperial power prevents the subjugated people from aquiring their own military means. But the americans and UK are training AND equipping Iraqi military and police, at their own expense!

5. An imperial power would know that it is important to dominate the religion to control the spirit of the people, and to protect "one's own" religion. The "standard narrative" of US/UK imperialism would have it that these are christian powers coming to impose christian rule on islamic lands (this is a gross distortion -- the US is a secular democracy; the UK has only a symbolic relationship to the church. Neither engages in the use of military might to enforce or spread christianity).

But, let us pretend for a moment that there is merit to such an accusation. What ought we then to expect? Should they not be suppressing open practise of Islam? Killing religious leaders and buldozing mosques? Quite the opposite -- in fact, it is fellow muslims that are killing religious leaders (and just any old civilian bystanders), while the Americans are assisting with reconstruction, spending their own soldier's lives and taxpayer's dollars to help protect against such attacks.

If it were a christian power "crusading" in Iraq, would you not expect them first and foremost to use military might to protect the Christian minority? But this is one of the main criticisms of the UK/US presence there: they are standing by doing nothing while the Christians are being gunned down by hostile Islamic forces and viciously suppressed. At human rights watch sites one can read hundreds of stories about Christian girls being kidnapped, raped and forcefully converted, churches being ransacked, Christian leaders being singled out and killed. And the UK/US forces stand by and do nothing. They are too busy protecting muslims from each other.

In some areas of Iraq the Jizya is being imposed -- or christians will be killed. They are being so harshly beset that those who can are getting out: The christian population in Iraq, at best estimate, is approximately 1/3 the size it was before the so-called "Invasion".

If this is an "imperial conquest" then somebody ought to give lessons to the US/UK about how to run a conquest. They seem to be a bit rusty.

Get real, Omar.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/3/2009

Failing to understand that what he calls "terrorism" is only the natural reaction to aggression that is, and has always been, universally known as resistance; Professor Eckstein is bound to rant and bluster.
The real problem with him is that he fails to see “terrorism “ for what it truly is : blind violence in the presumed defense of one’s goals and aspirations that target civilians indiscriminately with a single minded search for results.
The Prof’s approach, that leads him to condemn a Pizza HUT incident while lauding and applauding both Gaza and the Qanaas ( I &II), is only understandable being undertaken in a context of total rejection of the principle of equal value of all human beings whereby one X child=one Y child etc.
Had that equality principle been acceptable to him it would necessarily lead to the acceptance of the principle for the determination of the terrorist content, hence the vileness and criminality, of an act by the number of its victims.

That being a Structural problem with him it is only to be expected from the alumni of the realm of the doctrine which categorically denies human equality and does codify that in its “sacred” texts!
That is grounds well tread over earlier with no avail but sheds new light on his inability to comprehend the meaning and significance of “resistance”.

Resistance which boils down to the rejection to yield to an external will being primarily a natural human reaction to acts of aggression, theft, usurpation, denial of inalienable rights etc is intrinsically motivated by human nature could be externally motivated by a political outlook or a religious outlook or a humane outlook all being the practical manifestations of that principle of human equality .
Understandably that is NOT understandable by the Prof ; however if understandable as an abstract concept then certainly not acceptable as a guide line to political reasoning since it embodies the principle of human equality.

Naresh Bhadra - 6/3/2009

Hizbut Towhid (HuT), which was established in Bangladesh’s Tangail district under the leadership of Mr. Bayeejid Khan Ponni @ Selim Ponni has secretly established its branch in a number of countries in recent years with the aim of establishing branches of this ultra religious terrorist group in those countries. The international Head Quarters of Hizbut Towhid although is located in Dhaka (Bangladesh), the group has established a huge office at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur, where a Bangladeshi terrorist named Tanzil Chowdhury is given the responsibility of liaising with other terror groups like Al Qaida from Kuala Lumpur and collect fund for this organization from international donors. Hizbut Towhid purchased a luxurious apartment in the name of Tanzil Chowdhury at Apartment no. A-8-5, 1 Desa Residence, Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur 58100, Malaysia. Hizbut Towhid purchased this apartment in the name of Tanzil Chowdhury, two years back at the cost of US$ 3 hundred thousand. They also purchased a Mercedez Benz and a Hammar Jeep for the Malaysia office of HuT.
Tanzil Chowdhury was a pimp of Tareq Rahman, Gias Uddin Al Mamun and many others in Hawa Bhaban. Mamun established a car sales center at Dhaka’s Kala Bagan area named ‘Trenz’, where Tanzil was given the responsibility as the manager. During this time, Tanzil Chowdhury came into contact with Hizbut Towhid.
Moreover, Hawa Bhaban men established a ‘Comfort House’ at Dhaka’s Uttara area which was operated by Tanzil Chowdhury and his wife named Sigma. Gias Uddin Al Mamun, Tareq Rahman, Opu Siraj, Harris Chowdhury and many other Hawa Bhaban men were regularly visiting this house spending hours with hired women or Tanzil’s wife Sigma. This ‘Comfort House’ at Uttara became one of the secret but most effective ‘Tadbir’ center during BNP rule.
When caretaker government came in power, Tanzil fled the country along with his wife. Meantime, using his previous contact with Hizbut Towhid, Tanzil managed to get their support in opening a huge branch of this group in Kuala Lumpur. Through this branch, every year, a couple of millions of dollars is collected for Hizbut Towhid.
Tanzil also is doing manpower and ‘Hawala’ (money laundering) business in Kuala Lumpur. Most of the fleeing BNP or Hawa Bhaban men are seen at the above mentioned apartment at Taman Desa during late hours. It is even learnt that, Al Qaida’s threat fax to American Embassy and other embassies in Bangladesh was originated from this house of Tanzil Chowdhury.
Tanzil Chowdhury is also involved in various types of criminal activities. In Bangladesh Tanzil was continuing fraudulent activities with the help of his wife as well he was maintaining close relations with local terrorist groups. He was a close friend of ‘Pichchi Hannan’.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/2/2009

Hi R
you declaim:" ...fault for the evil excesses of your bogeyman "Western Imperialism" (which has not been in evidence for at least half a century), ...." in which I choose to high light:
"(which has not been in evidence for at least half a century) "

Would you, or would you NOT describe the US/UK & Co invasion of Iraq, less than five years old, as an imperialist conquest??

If Not would you care to amplify!

R. Craigen - 6/2/2009

I fail to see, Louis, what your comment has to do with "holy texts", as you give no evidence that Christian holy texts, which presumably you wish to fault for the evil excesses of your bogeyman "Western Imperialism" (which has not been in evidence for at least half a century), has any connection to the latter.

I take it that you would lay at the feet of Christianity all of your perceived, real and rhetorically distorted sins of the west, England, Europe and the United States (don't forget Canada and Australia!).

What amuses me about this particular dogma is that its strongest proponents, when the discussion turns to the roots of Western liberal democracy and the American ideals, dogmatically refuse to give their Judeohristian roots any due.

Where do you stand, Louis? Put it this way -- Is America a "Christian country", in your mind? Does Christianity lie behind the great ideals of freedom, justice and liberty for all, the ideas upon which the great nation is founded? Does Western liberal owe its birth to a nourishing environment of Judeochristian ideals? Separation of church and state -- fostered by the teachings of Jesus and the apostles ("Render unto Caesar..." and all that)?

You'll have none of that, will you? But everything you consider evil that's come out of the West (in reality or your fatuous caricature of it) ... well, now, that's directly attributable to Christianity's "holy texts" -- never mind that you don't cite a single holy text to support this nor provide any analysis showing the connection.

Your one-sided approach, Louis, is pitifully transparent. Omar's reply amounts to his usual antiwestern cheerleeding. Hi again, Omar. Good on ya, nice to know where you stand!

Your comment, Louis, is an aquatic preserve of canards and red herrings. "The British Empire slaughtered innocents worldwide with the approval of the Anglican Church". Oh really? So that is why the nations collectively known today as The British Commonwealth so proudly cling to their heritage as British colonies--though the "Empire" no longer exists and all are free to go their own way? That is why their standard of living, human rights records, and systems of governance, on balance, are visibly superior to their neighbors who didn't have this horrific disadvantage of being brutally conquered and subjugated by the nasty British?

And those awful, Imperialistic Americans ... well, except, of all "imperialists" in history, America appears to be the only one that never actually had, or aspired to, an actual empire. The only non-imperialistic superpower (aside from historical Korea) in the history of the world ... and the only thing you can think of saying about it is that it is "Imperialistic". Words fail me.

Now, if it's Imperialism you're interested in, perhaps you should turn your sights toward the only pervasive, active, and growing imperialistic ideology in the world today: Islamism, or Political Islam. As embodied by the organizations like Ikhwan al-muslimin, the OIC and many other groups, the goals of Islamism, quite explicitly, are none other than world domination. Oh, and they are genuinely motivated by "Holy Texts". For bedtime reading on this subject I recommend the Hamas Covenant (Hamas, by the way, is of the Ikhwan, perhaps the very epitome of this particular brand of Islamism).

Read a bit of Ikhwan ideological literature, check out the recent successes of Islamist agitation in continental Europe and England, and pay attention to the changes the OIC are proposing and have already partially succeeded in imposing, to the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and their activity in the UNHRC.

That's what real imperialism looks like in our generation, Louis. Open your eyes.

R. Craigen - 6/2/2009

Omar, it's hard to know where to start with your incoherent rant. (Please calm down before replying and try to order your thoughts meaningfully).

You seem incapable of, or blithely unwilling to grasp Prof. Furnish's objective in this piece, which is to establish tangible ideological aspects of sects within Islam that are of tactical value to the U.S. and western nations in dealing with the increasingly belligerent and problematic Islamic world in international affairs. As Furnish often does in his essays appearing on HNN, he is breaking new ground, and can only, in an essay of this size, sketch out some of the larger issues and players. This is not an anti-islamic apologetic, as you appear to believe; it is a dogma-neutral meditation on hypothetical approaches to foreign policy.

Repeatedly you appear to try to erase the distinction Furnish makes between "Islam" and "literalist Islam". Every one of the statements you extract from his essay as attacks on the former refer, in context, to the latter.

This leads me to believe, Omar, that you do not accept the Dr. Furnish's care in distinguishing between "Islam" and "literalist Islam". Is this because you have low reading comprehension skills or because you, yourself, do not accept such a distinction -- presumably because you are, yourself, a literalist?

Assuming the latter, your approach brings me to mind of all the times I've heard Islamic "spokespersons" gain exposure in the mainstream media to express outrage over "attacks on Islam", which generally are something else altogether: well-documented scholarly pieces exposing aspects of radical/fundamentalist/extremist/jihadist (etc) Islam, and which take great care not to tar all muslims with the "extremist" label. My understanding is that these "spokespersons" merely themselves refuse to allow extremism to be singled out for critical analysis.

I must conclude several things:
(a) they are, themselves, extremists, or in sympathy with extremists, regardless of their outward demeanor;
(b) they are the ones insisting that all muslims -- inclusive of those we wish to discuss as "extremists" -- must be painted with a single brush;
(c) their message is that to criticize extremists in this fashion is "racist" (even though Islam has, as you apparently agree, nothing whatsoever to do with race -- and neither does criticism of Islam or extremist Islam); and
(d) they would seek, by attempting to play to Western sensitivities about treating all people and cultures with respect, to gain a tactical advantage for extremists in Western discourse -- to wit, they would like criticism of extremist Islam to be regarded as equivalent to criticism of Islam, or "all muslims" (even though it is expressly neither of these things), for such to be regarded as despicable and in the same category as the worst forms of racism, and hence for all such comment to be marginalized or forbidden.

It strikes me as obvious that you are attempting to do precisely the same thing as these "spokespersons". If not, feel free to explain why you fail to accept Dr. Furnish's clear distinction ... in his case he is using a finer and slightly different distinction than "extremist vs non-extremist"; the distinction in question is "literalist vs non-literalist" Islam. If you answer, please address this distinction and don't go popping off on another rant about "attacks on Islam", which have precious little to do with the subject here.

You call Dr. Furnish an 'innate "racist" ' but fail to provide any support for this slanderous accusation. I have followed his writing for years and read his book on Mahdism and attest that I find no hint of racism or any other variety of discriminatory outlook in his work. What you purport to cite, even from his article, is merely cherrypicked, mixed-and-matched and misrepresented; it's not worth even addressing.

Your approach to this subject strikes me as paranoid, outwardly xenophobic and characterized by an Islam-vs-everything-else attitude that belies your own first condition to speak on this subject, "The intrinsic equality of all mankind and the innate worth of all cultures; i.e. the total absence of any “racist” bias or prejudices".

Tell me -- do you regard kafirs like me and Dr. Furnish as equal to muslims? (For the record, I do regard us as equals--this concept of equality, I'm sure you're aware, indeed you count upon such, is fundamental to Western liberal thought, and inherent in our Judeochristian heritage.) I suspect you don't. If you do, I'd be interested in hearing you say so unequivocally. If not, then is it because we are intrinsically unequal or because of an inferior (i.e., non-Islamic) culture?

art eckstein - 6/2/2009

Louis, you evidently haven't read the Koran, with its injunction to fight infidels until the day of judgment, with its division of the world into the Dar al-Islam (where Islam totally dominates and other religions are either expunged via violence or are allowed to exist on sufferance as long as their adherents pay special heavy taxes) and the dar al-Harb (the House of War, i.e., regions of the earth not yet subjected to islam). And you clearly have not read the Hadith, with its promise to hunt down and kill every last Jew on earth (unless, of course, they convert).

The difference between Christians and Muslims is that when Christians engage in imperialist violence, this is a violation of the basic precepts of the religion. But when Muslims engage in imperialist violence they are *fufilling* (some of) the basic precepts of the religion.

As V.S. Naipaul says, Islam is the most successful imperialism there is: for instance in Pakistan those who resisted Muslim imperial invasion in the 10th and 11th century are not viewed as heroes but as beastly infidels who resisted the Truth. You can't have a more thoroughgoing imperialism than that. The Europeans don't even come close in terms of cultural destructiveness. (Though the Chinese have come close in Tibet.)

And let me point out that even if Judaism and Christianity *were* as bloodthirstily imperialistic as much (not all, but much) of Islamic teaching is (which they are not), that would not change in the least the cultural problem in Islam. That's a logical fallacy on your part, as if delicts on one side count to the credit of the other side.
It would just mean that other religions had a similar cultural problem of religiously-inspired violence, imperial rule, and the ideal of conversion or death (or paying special taxes). That wouldn't lessen the cultural problem of violence in Islam per se.

But of course, other religions don't.

Irgun was a nationalist organization, not primarily a religious one. In that sense they were like the IRA, or the Tamil Tigers.

Those who flew planes filled with screaming women and children into buildings filled with office-workers did it explicitly in the name of Allah. Those who killed 34,000 civilians in Iraq did it explicitly in the name of Allah.

I don't think you can find any modern parallels (perhaps one can go back to the crusades,a 1000 years ago; but they themselves took their major cue from Muslim jihad, from which they are indistinguishable).

Louis Nelson Proyect - 6/2/2009

Would you blame the Jewish bible for the Irgun bombing of the King David hotel? There is nothing in the holy books of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism that would prompt anybody to kill civilians. Violence takes place either because a powerful country wants to impose its will on a weaker people, like Gaza. Or because the weaker people decide to fight back. They often justify their violence in terms of sacred books, but it is a conflict over resources (land, etc.) that is really driving the violence.

art eckstein - 6/2/2009

I'm amazed that old-time Marxists such as Proyect, and Islamic fanatics such as Omar, who has said that he agrees with Al-Qaeda's goals (i.e., a world-wide Caliphate under totalitarian Sharia law), would now downplay the role of ideology in the motivation of terrorism.

The people who flew the planes filled with screaming women and children into buildings filled with office workers said they were motivated by Islam. Do you disbelieve them?

The fanatics who killed 34,000 civilians in Iraq in 2005/2006 (UN figures) said they were motivated by Islam. All those deaths, including the intentional blowing up of children, and even the blowing up of people worshipping in mosques, were acts of homage to Allah Are the perpetrators fooling themselves?

This need not be all of Islamic belief, and Islam has some peaceful ideological elements to it. But 99% of the world's current terrorists are Muslims, and all the most hyperviolent ones are Muslims. This suggests there is a cultural problem within Islam as an ideology.

Moreover, Islam's history is one of violent imperialism, violent imperial expansion, until it ran in the 18th century into someone who had gotten more powerful (Europe). It is well to remember that just a century before the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Muslim artillery was bombarding Vienna. What motivated that expansion?

A legitimate interpretation is what primarily motivated that expansion is the belief that rule over the earth belongs to those who correctly worship God. This is why the military weakness of Muslim states, e.g., their defeat in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1982 by tiny Israel, constitutes a *theological* crisis. And the answer to that narcissistic injury has been an increasingly explicitly violent form of Islam that is increasingly (not totally, no no--but increasingly) the default mode. This is why even the slaughter of 3,000 civilians on 9/11 was greeted with joy in much (not all) of the Muslim world. It showed a new kind of Islamic Power.

Ideology counts.

Yet in the West you find so many people, Louis Proyect and James Butler among them, who seek to "understand" these actions. They act as voluntary megaphones for the monsters who perpetrate these actions. And, not co-incidentally, they impose their *own* ideological interpretation on these violent religiously-motivated actions, i.e., they ride their own hobby-horse here.

james joseph butler - 6/1/2009

I stopped reading your exegesis of; us them Koran Talmud Old New, about 2/3 of the way through, dinner and its dependents, depends on me.

I've got this strange theory, having dutifully, sat kneeled through my share of divine messages. They don't matter, which is why I fast forwarded to the End 2/3 of the way through. What does matter is the recent truth; America stole Iranian democracy and billions of petro-dollars. America/Israel is the last successful colony/racist land grab on Earth. America loves dictators if they deliver. Yes I know the mullahs were complicit in 1953, after all, established religions hate progress, and yes Nazis were demonic. But I think if one spent less time on ancient texts and more time on 20th century venality you'd have a firmer grasp on truth than all the hoohah true explication that got in the way of dinner tonite.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/1/2009

An exceptionally well thought out conclusion re modern times concisely laid out.
Although, for completeness, the poster should have paid greater attention, which he usually "betrays", to the intrinsic aggressiveness and inherent exploitedness of western colonialism/imperialism that lies at the root of the present conflict.

Of course the conflict could NOT spare its cultural manifestations which, ultimately, only serve to camouflage the money hunger of the West that lived quite an easy life when in control of others and, which is the point, of their resources and their “captive “ markets.
A point of interest to follow up by a keen economist(s) is the mode of economic dealing of Israel with the captive market of the occupied territories it governs.

Louis Nelson Proyect - 6/1/2009

This article is nonsense. For the past 500 years at least, most aggressive wars have been committed in the name of Christianity than Islam. It does not matter what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. The British Empire slaughtered innocents worldwide with the approval of the Anglican Church. Generally speaking, it is the imperial quest for riches that accounts for war more than anything else. When the CIA and Anglo-American oil interests conspired to overthrow Mossadegh, it was only natural that Iranian nationalism would seek to overthrow the stooge they put in place of Mossadegh. With the Shi'ite clerics having the muscle to throw the imperialists out, no wonder the state promotes its religious ideology. The US and Great Britain had no use for a secular figure like Mossadegh, nor for that matter a Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan, so it set into motion the forces that would finally represent Islam in its most extreme form. Blowback, anybody?

omar ibrahim baker - 6/1/2009

Despite a seemingly erudite essay on the subject with some pertinent and a plethora of irrelevant quotations Professor Furnish has a real, almost “existential”, problem.

Namely his attempt to reconcile his unshakable belief that Islam is evil incarnate that he copiously and approvingly “documents”; witness his own heart felt words :
1-”Many on the Left, who can’t be bothered to actually read a Qur’an, remain blindly convinced that there is nothing intrinsically violent in literalist Islam;[1] that all religions are equally peaceful (except perhaps for Christianity); and that the violent legions around the world engaged in decapitation, assassination and detonation in emulation of Muhammad are actually, unbeknownst even to themselves, motivated rather by something, anything, else: alienation, “
2-“Islam is not necessarily literally violent, but much if not most of the time literal Islam IS violent. How could it not be? Sura al-Nisa’[4]:34ff says “those wives from whom you fear rebellion….beat them.” Sura Muhammad [47]:3ff and Sura al-Anfal [8]:12ff say “when you encounter the unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads.” Sura al-`Imran[3]:157ff says “If you should die or be slain in the cause of God…before Him you shall be gathered.” Five different sections of the Qur’an promise “dark-eyed” huris, “bashful virgins whom neither man nor jinn will have touched,”[7] to those who die fighting on Allah’s behalf.”


His unsuccessful search for an Islam that satisfies his specifications and responds to his inner desire and political need for a “ moderate” , “enlightened” and “reformed” ( the words a la mode) with which he and ,by reasonable extension, Fundamentalist Christianity/Orthodox Judaism, can, not necessarily happily, co exist and deal.

His search is bound to fail being the outgrowth of two decisive mind and psyche forming factors:
a-An innate “racist” attitude that perforce denigrates other major cultures. Witness the many arguments he marshals to defend both Christianity and Judaism while denying Islam the same “rationale”.
b-His all but declared inner genuine objective that his eagerly sought after, his desired, Islam would NOT only seize to resist BUT would actively participate in the implementation of the geopolitical (expansionist Israel and domineering USA), military and economic , i.e. political, and cultural objectives and goals of neo con Fundamentalist Christianity and Zionist Judaism.

For such a search to ever lead to meaningful conclusion, an outcome of great importance to international understanding and cooperation, it should be undertaken and tackled by persons/entities that, inter alia, recognize and genuinely believe in and uphold:
- The intrinsic equality of all mankind and the innate worth of all cultures; i.e. the total absence of any “racist” bias or prejudices
- Full command of an objective mental ability and full knowledge and understanding of the diverse historical processes that all religions, and cultures, went through that ultimately helped to shape them as they stand now
-A interests free, i.e. a non politically motivated , outlook at the history, the culture and the present conditions of all.

All the above prerequisites being patently and totally absent from Professor Furnish's record and oeuvre his search was bound to fail as it amply did.