The first post tells why. It may be too little, but hopefully not too late.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Playing with totalitarian symbols, or Why I quit the American Association for the Advancement of Science

12-10-2010. - Today is a sad day. After being a member of the AAAS  for many years, I have decided not to renew my membership upon receiving the notice that it has expired. Although the $146/year membership has not provided me with a tangible benefit, with Science magazine it publishes available to me online through my University's subscription, that is not the reason for my saying 'No' to the last and "Urgent!" AAAS Membership Renewal Certificate. I have felt fine supporting the Association, even though I have not needed any of the benefits of individual membership. I do not know exactly what it does, apart from publishing Science, but that was not an issue either. I have been satisfied with its general description as an "organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association". I no longer am. I no longer feel it can do that service well.

Strange as it may seem, my dissociation from the Association results from the call to renew my membership. Not from its simple substance, which is donating money to some science-related activities and staff supporting them, but from the form. And from the results of my discussion of that form with individuals who are responsible for it - Mr. Ian King, the AAAS Director of Marketing, and Dr. Alan Leshner, the CEO of the AAAS. The contents of that discussion are presented below. I wish my concerns were shared by the community, but I see no reason not to believe Mr. King, the marketing director, who said I had been the only one to raise them. Nevertheless, don't hesitate to comment this way or another.

Notice anything out of order? Perhaps you can't clearly see the image I scanned. The renewal certificate offers an incredibly attractive deal: in addition to Science, some bonus subscriptions and member savings on the AAAS annual meeting I've never attended, I'd get - for 2-year membership - a "FREE Darwin T-shirt!" I cannot know if Darwin would be thrilled by knowing that his likeness serves as a marketing tool, even though his known modesty makes that doubtful. We can, however, safely guess that he, who considered belief in G-d "ennobling" and connected the Golden Rule as the "foundation of morality" with natural human social instincts (see The Descent of Man), would not want to be associated with the bloody revolutionary, Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

These thoughts forced me to send emails to the AAAS staff, the last of which was to its CEO:

Alan I. Leshner
Chief Executive Officer
Executive Publisher, Science
American Association for the
Advancement of Science
Voice: 202-326-6639
FAX: 202-371-9526

11/23/2010 7:33 PM

Dear Dr. Leshner:

As many others, I have received a promotional AAAS membership renewal
certificate, including an offer of a "FREE Darwin T-shirt" bonus. The
T-shirt bears a picture of Darwin on it, which is fashioned after the
well-known portrait of Ernesto "Che" Guevara with a paraphrased slogan
related to the same portrait, "¡Viva La Evolución!".

I doubt this allusion is appropriate for a non-political scientific
organization such as AAAS. Whatever romantic qualities might have been
ascribed to Guevara by pop culture, he was a brutal Communist
revolutionary who ordered executions of, personally executed and
tortured his alleged "enemies". Placing Darwin in any connection with
Guevara is as fitting as adorning him with Lenin's cap or Stalin's pipe,
and is an insult to Darwin who is unable to object personally. It is in
bad taste, to put it mildly, especially for those who, like myself, have
had experience with Communist regimes. In the Soviet Union, we could not
read Science in the original. I am not sure whether its publishers and
authors were aware of that, but Science was reprinted, with all articles
that could offend a Soviet censor removed and their titles blotted out
in the table of contents. This is, of course, nothing compared to "Che"
Guevara's crimes.
I have attempted to receive AAAS's reassurance that this T-shirt was a
mistake to be corrected and is not indicative of the society's position
on totalitarian ideologies. The Society's Marketing Director, Mr. Ian
King, was kind enough to reply to my request and discuss the issue with
his colleagues (I am not sure with whom). The decision they took was
"phasing out the Darwin T-shirt, beginning in September, meaning [they]
will no longer be offering it in [their] renewals, or from [their] trade
show booth for new members". Nevertheless, they did not accept my
request to make a public announcement regarding that, e.g., on the AAAS
website, indicating that the use of Guevara imagery was erroneous. I
still think, however, that it is important not to be silent and merely
withdraw the shirt, which could be done with any marketing device, never
noticed by anybody. The image, which has been seen by many, suggests the
AAAS's sympathies toward totalitarian regimes and their symbols such as
Guevara, or at least readiness to popularize such images by using them
as marketing tools - impressions that I am sure are both unwelcome and

Until the public announcement is made admitting that marketing error, I
cannot in good conscience renew my AAAS membership, due to expire soon.

I would greatly appreciate your response on this matter.

Sincerely, etc.

The response that followed was prompt:

From: Alan Leshner <aleshner@aaas.org>;
To: Michael Vanyukov <mmv@pitt.edu>;
Date: Nov 24 2010 - 2:13pm
We can certainly understand and sympathize with your perspective. We in
        no way meant for this t-shirt to be construed as an endorsement of the
        policies or practices of Che Guevara. Indeed our human rights group here
        at AAAS is well aware of the oppressive nature of the former communist
        regimes, a practice which we know continues in those remaining communist
        countries today. As you may know we no longer distribute this t-shirt.
        We believe to call attention to this product on the web site now and
        revisit the "Che" symbol would be counter-productive to your overriding
        concerns. It is our belief that the t-shirts, like the "Che" character,
        are best left to fade away.

        We hope you will reconsider your membership as we value your opinions
        and unique point-of-view

        With best wishes,

        Alan Leshner

Obviously, I  disagree that somebody should know better what better serves my "overriding concerns" while I am still sane. This is especially so when this judgment is offered by people who have been willing - for two years, by Mr. King's admission - to use an image of a mass murderer who has long been a symbol of communist regimes. Despite the AAAS human rights group's alleged awareness of communist oppression. One of those overriding concerns of mine is exactly that my point of view is considered "unique". In fact, the image of Guevara is so popular in the US universities that the AAAS decided, in the words of its marketing director, "to play off of the Guevara T-shirts that one often sees on college campuses and other places. It was intended to parody that piece of pop culture while serving as a statement of support for the continued preeminence of Darwin's theories." The AAAS's mindless willingness to employ the Guevara chic and laissez-faire attitude to its meaning will contribute to the perpetuation and rise of his popularity, with his and Darwin's images now merged thanks to the AAAS t-shirt. 

No wonder the evolutionary theory - the guiding light of biology - scares those who have not got a chance to get higher education. Education does not make one immune from moral confusion, and sometimes is associated with arrogance preventing timely correction of moral lapses. Neither this confusion nor "the 'Che' character" are likely to "fade away" soon.

Friday, November 26, 2010

British Anti-Zionist Committee

As reported in the Jerusalem Post, the "leadership" (for what it's worth) of the British Jewry has been "de-Zionized". In other words, it has consistently taken a "critical" position towards Israel (quote marks, because it is consistently one-sided and calumnious). Worse even, the head of its self-appointed Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), Mick Davis, has suggested that Israel's policies should be corrected because they poorly reflect on him, thus repeating one of the main antisemitic ideas, according to which the Jews bear collective responsibility for actions of fellow Jews, whether real or imaginary, just as they have had for the slander of deicide.

This reminds me of my home country. In the Soviet Union, antisemitism was officially banned but its official expressions were well understood by the population from the incessant "criticism" of Israel, with printed propaganda including cartoons hardly different from those in Der Stuermer. Everybody could readily connect this "criticism" and its fluctuations with the official and not so secret policy regarding hiring Jews, accepting them to universities, and allowing them emigration. In the antisemitic Soviet Union, there used to be "Anti-Zionist Committee" comprised of famous Jews - actors, writers, lawyers, scientists, and headed by a general, a World War II hero. The AZC, "voluntary" as it was called, was created in 1983 by the KGB and the Propaganda Dept. of the Party (basically the same animal). It was popularly known as the "Antisemitic Committee". Its goal was to malign Israel with the added legitimacy of "Jews themselves" doing that, and to convince the "abroad" - whoever would need such a pathetic pretext, particularly in the USA and Israel, - that the Soviet Jews needed no Israel and there was no antisemitism in the USSR. Needless to say, if anybody thought to organize a Zionist committee, he would see the other side of the KGB in no time, as people like Sharansky did indeed. Those AZC members were partly duped by the continual Communist (anti-capitalist and anti-Israel) brain-washing, partly scared of the KGB for themselves or for family members, partly the official and popular antisemitism had brushed off onto them. I do not know how many well-known Jews were approached and rejected the KGB's kind offer to join. I am not sure how many of the members were "invited" by the KGB rather than volunteered, but there were those among them who did the latter, ashamed of fellow Jews and vocal in "criticizing" Israel. That was nothing new. Right after the Bolshevik revolution, young atheistic Jews had created "Yevsektsiya" (Евсекция; the "Jewish Section" of the Communist Party), whose function was eradication of the Jewish religious and national culture - following Marx's suggestions on the Jewish emancipation by emancipation from Jewishness.

As in the USSR, the "Jews themselves" argument attaches - in the eyes of so many willing beholders - additional legitimacy to slander and antisemitic canards about Israel in the old tradition of blood libel. That's why the Jewish slanderers of Israel - Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Steven Rose - are so popular among neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Muslims, as well as the antisemites of the Left. Under strong pressure, traitors appear with regularity, and provide the ever-interested public with all needed argumentation for why their enemy is right.

I am not sure how strong the pressure on the Jews is in England. I appreciate the possibility that some of them have been brain-washed by the increasingly antisemitic environment in Great Britain into seeing the root of the Arabs-Israel problem in Israel's attacking innocent Arabs rather then in the sworn rejection of Israel's right to exist by Arabs. I do know, however, that compared to the Soviet Jews imprisoned in the Soviet Union, the British Jews and their "leadership" have an additional and much nobler option than slander and betrayal: emigration - to Israel. Instead, they have succeeded - without any KGB pressure and truly voluntarily - in organizing "Anti-Zionist" antisemitic committees. Mazel tov.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Freedom of silence

The state media in the Soviet Union - and all media was state there - hardly needed political censorship after decades of the Soviet rule. The writers exercised self-monitoring very well. The most they allowed themselves was mild allegoric satire that was benignly looked upon by the powers that be as a safety valve for the teacup frondeurs. That helped the writers' popularity and created an illusion of freedom, while keeping boundaries intact. Considering that the writers' livelihood, and sometimes life itself, depended on their craft, one can hardly blame them for self-censorship - perhaps for the choice of profession.

It seems that the US media is getting the proper conditioning as well. On some issues, to remain silent is the only right. The case in point is Juan Williams, a senior National Public Radio (NPR) reporter and Fox News contributor, who has been fired from NPR. He violated the current taboo established by the government, which is a source of NPR funding. He said that seeing people in Muslim garb on a plane makes him nervous. He honestly admitted suffering from a psychological/psychiatric phenomenon, an increased anxiety. That anxiety is conditioned, as is well-known, on a very traumatic event and other similar events associated with the same system of beliefs people in Muslim garb are very likely to share - not on some "Islamophobic" prejudice. He should have kept silent. Such anxiety, and honesty in admitting it, are "inconsistent with [NPR's] editorial standards and practices". Since he could not do much about his anxiety, it is honesty that should have been kept in check, if he wanted to continue serving the organ of governmental propaganda.

One might juxtapose this firing with the recent firing of Helen Thomas by Hearst. There are significant differences, however. Helen Thomas said that Jews should should "go home" from Israel to Germany and Poland, the countries where they were exterminated. She thus unashamedly shares views of Hamas and Hizballah, not necessarily a kosher thing for a senior correspondent with White House accreditation. She was fired because of her antisemitism and support for terrorists' ideology. UPI and Hearst Newspapers, for which Thomas worked, are also not funded by the government. Juan Williams said that he was nervous on the plane seeing people looking like they were into Islam - a characteristic they share with Hamas, Hizballah and Al Qaida. It would be unreasonable not to be nervous about that after 9/11.

Juan Williams has long been an object of disdain and hate by the left for his participation in Fox News, however pro-left his position has been there. The left, taking after its spiritual ancestry, hates everybody who collaborates with what it views as "class enemy". Besides, he had chutzpah to criticize Michelle Obama (who felt OK about the US the first time when her husband was made a presidential candidate). Welcome, Juan, to Miranda rights - Soviet style.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Europe's revolutionaries & Hamas

As reported in Jerusalem Post on October 18, Proinsias De Rossa, an Irish member of European Parliament, said that Hamas should be officially recognized by the European Union. De Rossa is not your average politician, of the kind that seek offices in the forthcoming midterm elections in the US. He is also a former  President of the Workers' Party of Ireland. The Party originates from the Official IRA, whose activities included bank robberies. The latter, while probably profitable, still did not cover funding needs, and in 1986 De Rossa, who was at the time "Chairperson Executive Political Committee" of the Party before its split, signed a letter to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union requesting such funds for "special activities". Those activities, in quotes in the letter itself, were of such variety that it was "not possible to detail ... because of reasons we are sure [Secretary of the CPSU] will understand." The letter appealed to the Soviet comrades with touching sincerity: "The 'special activities' are unable to always be effective and so on occasion the party has to seek loans... We are confident of achieving in time all that we have set ourselves to do, but what we urgently need now is an injection of capital to enable us to devote our time to the tasks in hand and to relieve us of the daily burden of financial constraints". De Rossa and his comrades knew they could rely on the generosity of the CPSU (more precisely, KGB), because they knew "well the tremendous sacrifices made by and the support the Soviet Union rendered to liberation movements and Revolutionary Parties struggling all over the world". As reported in The Independent, the KGB and the CPSU did approve the one million of Irish pounds requested, albeit it took quite awhile, three years, when perestroika was already in full bloom. According to the article, since then De Rossa "has taken a consistently anti-IRA position, organising 'peace trains' between Dublin and Belfast to protest at the bombing of the trains by the IRA". Nevertheless, the "special activities" that have become bad for the revolutionary Irishman (after all, it's hard to be a politician and still support bombing trains in your backyard), may still be viewed as good for "liberation movements... all over the world".

One of those movements is surely Hamas. It is indeed only fitting for Europe to recognize Hamas, as proposed by De Rossa. While for him Hamas are fellow revolutionaries, supported by KGB and its current successors, Europe has for a long time had the same aspirations as Hamas and has only recently been actively engaged in the same business as Hamas. Moreover, Hamas can so far only dream of Europe's success in murdering Jews. De Rossa ridiculously claimed that "Hamas has said it is willing to recognize Israel; we have to ask why this is not reported in the media very often." The answer is simple: there has been nothing to report, unless one is willing to lie like De Rossa - not that recognition by and negotiations with terrorists could be reasonably desired by any state. Of course, Hamas has never changed its foundational Covenant that not only rules out  recognition of and negotiations with Israel, but follows Muhammad's call for the genocide of the Jews, quoting the famous hadith about the Muslims' need to kill the Jews for the Judgment Day to come.

Europe faces perhaps the worst thing in its history - an ideology openly declaring world domination as its goal, whose followers prefer death to life and thus are deaf to anything rational, taking over Europe's cities already - and all it sees is the hated Jews it did not manage to finish off.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Some time after

Let's just think for a moment what would happen if the "Palestinian" state were created as a result of current talks. Besides a couple of new Nobel peace prizes. Let's think of the "best-case" scenario, when the "refugee" problem is solved (I put the word in quotes because few if any of those people are actual refugees), the borders are mutually agreed on, and Jerusalem is not an issue. The disemboweled Israel has finally conducted another ethnic cleansing of its own loyal citizens, depriving them of their homes, land and life they have invested into their fields, vineyards and the Zionist idea. There is nobody left with whom that idea would have any physical traction anymore. The Judenrein Judea and Samaria emerge as "Palestine", named after the ancient enemies of Jews who never lived on that territory. Plishtim, as their Hebrew name was, the Philistines, whose name has come to stand for rude and uncultured ignoramuses, 3,000 years ago occupied part of the Mediterranean coast and had nothing to do with the Arabs. Mahmoud Abbas is enthroned as the President - finally, not of some "Authority" but a state. He has a new kunya perhaps, Abu Filastiniya. He sits in Ramallah, or even Jerusalem - behind the presidential desk under the portrait of the great Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini, aka Yasser Arafat. Al-Husseini is also the name of Arafat's revered relative, Haj Amin, a good friend of Hitler and Eichmann and the first leader of "Palestinians". Wikipedia lists "Yasser" within that long train of names, but Arafat took it only when he studied in a university in Cairo. In Cairo he was also born, that great "Palestinian", who adopted the tale of his Jerusalem birth under the direction of his KGB handlers. But I digress.

Now, the "Palestine" of this sweet dream is surely a democratic state. That is, if Abbas, or whoever may dethrone him, does not decide to become a life-term president, which any other self-appointed Arab leader would do, especially given support of his multiple American-taught "security" forces. Is Gaza with its Hamas government part of that state? Hamas's Charter does not allow it to recognize or conduct negotiations with Israel. Thus, whether Gaza is not in that state, or is accepted as an entity within it, it has nothing to do with any agreements. How long will it take for an independent Gaza to start lobbing rockets at Israel again? Alternatively, how long will it take for Hamas to be elected to rule over the united "Palestine" and denounce these fabulous "peace" agreements or simply disregard them? Even before that, what will force Abbas to prevent murders of Israelis committed by "his" citizenry, if he is naming city squares after the terrorist murderers? As happened after the ethnic cleansing of Gaza, it will be immensely more difficult for Israel to protect itself against terror, capture terrorists, or retaliate, if Israeli troops are not deployed in "Palestine" anymore. How long will it take for its terror gangs to get equipped with weaponry readily provided via Jordan, which would likely soon become united with its long-suffering brethren into a terrorist fuehrer-led democracy, getting rid of that old import from Mecca, the Hashemites? There will be people willing to remind Abdullah of his father's Black September and of his own stripping them of their long-held Jordanian citizenship and rights. Whatever illusions may have existed before Israel's self-defeats in South Lebanon and Gaza, following the same pattern again is madness. Don't tell me how well it worked with buying peace from Egypt - does anybody doubt that only Israel's strength has protected it?

Squeezed tightly between the terror states of Jordistine and Hizballon, with the antisemitic "international community" guaranteeing "peace", that is, Israel's non-response to terror attacks for which those states would always have plausible if absurd deniability - with whom will Israel negotiate away the rest of its minuscule land? This time, for safe conduct?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

PS to "What peace?"

Sometimes, in trying to be laconic, precision is sacrificed. To be sure, the description of the EU as "Arab-appeasing" in the prior post does not mean that it is not "traditionally antisemitic" as Russia or the Muslim-dominated UN. This point has just been illustrated by the EU's Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, a Belgian, who noted that, regardless of religiosity,“Lay Jews also share the same belief that they are  right. So it is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational  discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East.” Upon hearing some concerns, he explained that his comments were wrongly interpreted as antisemitic, and he regretted that. He did not think it would be offensive - and the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton did not either. She too was confident that he "did not intend any offense" - why, indeed, antisemitism should be offensive, especially in Europe? At the same time, she was "encouraged by the positive outcome of the launch of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority." No surprise, considering that the only "outcome of the launch" has been the murder of four Jews (five; one of the women was pregnant) and severe wounding of another one. Seven orphans. I hate to think what can make Catherine Ashton happy.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What peace?

Another "Peace talks" charade has just started. Charade, because it makes no sense. Peace talks assume there is a war and there are warring sides, states. One cannot call "war" attempts of a terror gang (PLO, Fatah, Hamas, etc.) to kill Israelis and blackmail them into accepting the Arabs' desire to destroy Israel.

There is no war. There is continuous unrest and terror acts of the Arabs, which are ideologically motivated and can cease only if the ideology has no support. A nationalist ideology could be satisfied by attaining statehood if that ideology included the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. It does not seem to, as it is not a truly nationalist ideology. This ideology, from the start, has been focused not on the creation of a state but on the elimination of Israel. PLO was founded in 1964, before any "occupation" excuse for its terror. If Arabs had a goal of creating a state, they would have done that by now, taking one of the many opportunities they have had and rejected. The Islamic ideology, both embedded in the Palestinian Arab "nationalism" or in its pure Hamas form, in general predominant, does not allow a Jewish state at all, inasmuch as "Palestine" is Islamic waqf. There is nobody on either Fatah or Hamas side both capable and willing to suppress either ideology. Any "peace" they may achieve will consist, as usual, of Israel's irreversible tangible concessions and reversible and non-enforceable empty Arab promises. Non-agreement is fraught with Arab violence. Agreement is fraught with Israeli losses and Arab violence. I'd be happy if proven wrong.

Suppose, however, that this is a war. Isn't it the same war wherefore the Oslo accords were supposed to bring peace? That was the only justification for reimporting the career terrorist Arafat and his coterie, Abbas included. Evidently, it has not worked, if "peace talks" are needed again, after Oslo and all the rest of later talks. What would make anybody think it will work this time?

Oslo accords as well as all the later "peace" negotiations with terrorists have failed for the same reason as the most famous negotiations of this kind, Munich 1938. The "land for peace" principle did not work then and only stoked Hitler's ambitions. That should have been enough to condemn and forget this approach, particularly when dealing with spiritual descendants of Hitler. Instead, it is history that has been forgotten.

Finally, Abbas does not represent even the "Palestinian authority" (that's why he mentioned PLO and only PLO in his speech) and is nobody's "president" as of January 2009. Hamas holds sway over Gaza and over the minds of Arabs in Judea and Samaria. Both
Hamas and Abbas's Fatah are terror groups committed to Israel's destruction. The way they compete for hearts and minds is by indiscriminately killing Jews. Those, however, are just small details for "peacemakers" of the Quartet, traditionally antisemitic Russia and the UN, the Arab-appeasing EU, and the US of Reverend Wright's capable pupil.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mosque and state

I watched Fox News a couple of days ago - what else a wingnut would watch? A minister, Reverend Barry Lynn, whose main occupation is to fight for separation of church and state (he heads an organization with that mission), had a dispute with Walid Shoebat, a former Muslim and an anti-Islamist. Shoebat was translating, from his native Arabic, the "Cordoba mosque" imam Rauf's comments regarding the need for America to become a Shariah state.

Now, I understood why Lynn could have been invited to the program. After all, Islam does not consider separation of "church" and state at all: Islam was created by Muhammad to be the foundation of his perfect state. It is the only option an Allah-fearing Muslim may entertain. Witness Iraq, liberated from a dictatorship by the sacrifices of American soldiers only to ensure that "Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation" (Iraqi Constitution, Article 2). Quoting further, "A. No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established." Somehow, the next clause is that "B. No law that contradicts the principles of democracy may be established", which hardly makes sense, because any law deviating from Shariah will contradict clause A, and democracy is supposed to make laws outside of the established provisions of Islam, i.e., the Shariah. There has never been a democratic Islamic country, unless you consider voting a sufficient proof of democracy. If you do, we also had democracy in the Soviet Union, have it in Gaza, and I have the proverbial bridge to sell. Of course, when in a foreign non-Muslim country, serving Islam in the land of infidels like imam Rauf does, one has to be realistic, but nobody can stop a man from dreaming. Particularly when this man's idea of the ideal state is Muhammad's totalitarian empire.

What a shocker it was, however, when, instead of criticizing Islam for its non-separation from state, Rev. Lynn turned out to be a protector of Islam. In response to Shoebat's translation, the minister announced that it was a "misstatement". No idea whose misstatement he meant. No, he does not read or speak Arabic. He knows, however, that he can with  impunity accuse Shoebat of "misstatements" when telling truth about Islam is considered lying - that is the view of the mainstream media that sings in happy unison with the US government. Except for that repeated statement of "misstatement", and the usual straw man of the Muslims' "right to build", Lynn provided no argument.

The same straw man has been raised by The State, i.e., the US government, including the president. Nobody has questioned that right. What is questioned is the propriety of that construction in  that location. It may take a long time for the public to understand that it is a cynical distortion of justice for governmental officials, with the US president on top, to proclaim rights of a Shariah-toting imam to build a house of worship for a faith that denies that right to other faiths. It is also an obscene distortion of the principle of separation of church and state, when these officials, representing the state and trying to silence a public dispute, suggest that the nation's disagreement with construction of an Islamic monument near the mass grave of victims of violent Islam is tantamount to hate crime.

Then again, what can you expect when Barack Hussein has announced that "America and Islam ... overlap". Perhaps church and state, let alone synagogue and state, are separated in Obama's America. Mosque and state is a different matter. It would be a sure sign of Islamophobia to hold them separate.

Related posts: Monument to Murderers; Just Thinking; Thinking Ahead"First We Take Manhattan"; Islamophobia?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


You hear that, and bad things come to mind. Claustrophobia, agoraphobia, and other similar extreme anxiety conditions disabling people. Judeophobia, which is a more precise synonym of antisemitism. Phobia is an irrational, intense fear/hate and avoidance of something that poses little or no actual danger. There are phobias related to animals (e.g., spiders), environments and situations (heights, storms). There are some phobias peculiar to a culture, such as taijin kyofusho, specific to Japan - an exaggerated fear of offending somebody. Most if not all  phobias appear to be extreme variants of normal human fears and apprehensions. It follows that once this word is attached to an entity, you know that the latter is really nothing to be afraid of, let alone hate. It is a disease or extreme prejudice not to see that.

Is that what we are dealing with, when the word "phobia" is attached to "Islam"? Is there indeed an irrational fear or hate of Islam? If so, is it as grotesque and morbid as agoraphobia, or perhaps as dangerous and murderous as Judeophobia? I won't delve much into the ancient history, because the fears or comfort of the living are not so much influenced by what happened centuries ago, unless the same events occur in the present, and then the present may not connect with the past. For instance, in the Russian language there is an archaic word, бусурманин (busurmanin), that is derived from "Muslim" and was used as recently as in 19th century to scare children and designate any enemy. The origin of that scare is in the times of Muslim raids on the Russian territories and in the centuries of Muslim khans' domination and enslavement. The word was not revived, however, when the children of Beslan were murdered by Muslim terrorists, or hostages of suicidal Muslims died in a Moscow theater, or Muslim "Black Widows" blew themselves up in the Moscow metro. Indeed, even though Chechens are Muslims, and it is hard not to see Islam's involvement in their cause, that cause is more nationalist than Muslim. Nowadays, the language is either more specific  - "Chechens", "Wahhabites"; or more generic - "terrorists". Muslims comprise a large proportion of the population in Russia, and are not persecuted for their religion. Russia, like the Soviet Union before, is good friends with  Islamic countries. Interestingly though, devout Muslims to this day call Christians "Crusaders". They also jumped at the word "crusade" (against terrorists), used by Bush in the wake of 9-11 in no connection to a Christian cause. Of course, because for Muslims the suicidal mass murder of 9-11 was an act of their faith, they considered any response to be religious  as well - Jewish and Christian. Never mind that Bush became a spokesperson for Islam, "religion of peace".

According to Obama, the explanation of 9-11 is in the "tension [that] has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies". Not according to Osama. His "fatwa" was titled "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places" - his grievance was in the violation of Muhammad's prohibition of any religion but Islam in that land, one of the early manifestations of Islamic tolerance. That's why the Saudi monarchy that allowed the American/non-Muslim presence on the Arab soil is Osama's enemy as well. According to Obama, "America and Islam ... overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." Not according to Islam, which denies justice and dignity not only to other faiths (unless you consider dhimmitude just), but to even Muslim women and children. OK, let's assume that Islam is not defined by Muhammad's "marrying" a six-year old Aisha and raping her at the ripe age of nine, by his genocide of the Jewish tribes in Arabia, by the bloody conquests and Islamization of North Africa, Asia and large part of Europe  - that's all ancient history. There is a lot, they say, bad stuff in any religion's past.  What good is Islam defined by in our times? What is coming out of the Muslim world that serves, or at least does not hurt and promise to hurt more, humanity? These questions are rhetorical. No, I take it back. There is good coming out of Islamic world - people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who leave us hope that Islam's hold on its adherents is not absolute even in the darkest places of Dar al-Islam.

Ancient history aside, it's hard to miss Islam's influence in present-day events. The negative stuff in the name of Islam, by Islam and for Islam happens - well, every day. Everybody knows about that, so I'd like first to consider the positive. Let's see.  Can you? I can't. What I can see is that the only way for a Muslim not to think or do horrible things - not just to others but to family members - is to become a "bad" Muslim and neglect the Koran of Allah and the Sunna (tradition on the conduct) of the Prophet, which a "good" Muslim is supposed to dutifully follow.

Inconsistent with the definition of phobia, the fear of Islam is not irrational - it is well justified by the actions of Muslims in the name of Allah, whether it is a stoning of Muslim "adulterers" or Jewish children, a decapitation of a captive,  or incessant murderous attacks on anybody, any group, or any country that Muslims view as a problem. It does not matter how small the proportion of the 1.5 billion of Muslims that commit those actions is, as long as they are committed, not prevented, and condoned or even celebrated by the majority of the Muslims. It is those actions that are justifiably hated - not Muslims, who are the first victims of the cult of Allah. As a real phobia is a mental disorder, so is a lack of fear of something that presents clear, present and mortal danger - this is the other side of the same psychological coin. It is pathological or at least not very smart not to fear a lion and jump into his cage in a zoo. It would be pathological not to fear Islam.

Attaching "phobia" to "Islam" does not make the fear of Islam prejudicial, bigoted, or morbid. It is an attempt to subvert reality and turn the norm into pathology. In the same manner, Russian fascists invented the word Russophobia, serving a similar purpose - to render pathological the fear of the antisemitic and repressive Russian nationalism. Many Russians see through that and use the term only ironically. Those who use it seriously are known for what they are - fascists, who often are so transparent as to use swastika in their symbolics. I hope, the Americans are able to hold on to their rational fears, including that of Islam. The alternative is too dire - and scary.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"First we take Manhattan...."

Trying to defend indefensible, The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof has become telepathic. He has penetrated the mind of al-Awlaki, and discovered that the Muslim terrorist "must be cheering the Republicans on as they demagogue against the mosque and feed into his terror recruitment narrative" (I guess, Harry Reid is a closet Republican).  This is in Kristof's blog, and a similar connection - between Muslim terrorists and Republicans - is made in his op-ed in the paper. To prove to the non-telepathic part of the population that building that Islamic center will be "force for moderation", he tells us that we already have strip clubs and liquor stores nearby, that Crusaders burnt Jews while singing, and that in Pakistan he knows a woman who fears of honor killing by her Christian brothers. Irrelevant as all that is, she is fortunately alive though, in contrast to so many Muslim women killed by their Muslim fathers, brothers and husbands. We do not know how Mr. Kristof knows of those brotherly intentions, but with his telepathic talents there is no need to doubt his knowledge. Instead, we should confidently rely on his "hunch... that the violence in the Islamic world has less to do with the Koran or Islam than with culture, youth bulges in the population, and the marginalization of women." Now, it is surely common knowledge, isn't it, that "the Koran or Islam" cannot be part of culture, and marginalization of women has nothing to do with Islam. What can Islam have in common with culture when it regulates every single moment of a believer's life? There is simply no room left for culture. Projecting his powerful telepathic probe into the feeble but evil minds of his true enemies, Kristof finds that "many Republicans are prepared to bolster the Al Qaeda narrative, and undermine the brave forces within Islam pushing for moderation." Those must be the very same forces that bravely want to rub this moderation into the wounds of those whose loved ones were murdered by the cultureless 9-11 shahids.

Arguably, the objections of even a single survivor of a victim of the 9-11 Muslim terror should be sufficient to stop the construction, if the Golden Rule still means anything in our culture. In Mr. Kristof's bright mind's eyes, however, such sensitivity to these survivors' anguish would be "just like [that of] the Saudi officials who ban churches, and even confiscate Bibles". Now, it is common knowledge, isn't it, that banning churches in Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with Islam, even though that is done in accordance with Muhammad's prohibition of any faith but Islam in the land of Arabs. Mr. Kristof knows better. The brave Mr. Kristof even brought a Bible with him on his trip there - not because he needed it, but "to see what would happen". His courage, however, went only so far and did not extend to showing it to the customs officer, who did not check our hero's belongings. Nothing happened. Not sure what this proves, but Mr. Kristof got his pointless experiment that may get the customs guy fired if his superiors read the Times, and nobody will be able to bring any Bibles there anymore. Even the curious Mr. Kristof, who thinks that Saudis do that "out of sensitivity to local feelings", not because of the Saudi law. See, the law is Shariah, Islamic, which does not quite fit into Mr. Kristof's "hunches".

But the most interesting piece of Mr. Kristof's convoluted logic is related to Israel's wishful thinking regarding Hamas: "Israeli officials thought that if Gazans became more religious, they would spend their time praying rather than firing guns." The rationale for that, as Kristof recognizes, was the idea that "Palestinian violence has roots outside of Islam". Obviously, but imperceptibly to Kristof who still thinks that to be true, history has shown that to be a grievous mistake. The religious Hamas-led Gazans chant "Allahu Akbar" that surely has nothing to do with Islam, sending rockets to Israeli kindergartens.

I could never understand what that Leonard Cohen song exactly was about. It does not say it clearly, and I am not telepathic. Then again, maybe it's contagious - now, I think, I have a "hunch". With people like Kristof forming the public's opinion, any terrorist can sing, "You know the way to stop me / But you don't have the discipline." Kristof did not have to exercise his telepathy. Like he, Mahmud Zahar of Hamas approves of the 9-11 mosque and thinks that "Muslims have to build everywhere".  As I said before, why not right where the Twin Towers stood? It'll show them...  moderation, Hamas/Kristof style.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Thinking ahead

by Galina Kirillova

"First, do no harm". So stated Hippocrates, the father of medicine. The ethical principles he declared are embodied in the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians before they enter their profession. These ethical principles, necessary to practice medicine, are on top of the long years of medical education. And despite all that, we the patients still try to improve our choice of a doctor, because our life and its quality depend on that. We take into account everything: credentials, experience, reputation. We want to make sure that "our" doctor knows his stuff. What happens when we choose our country's president? What criteria determine the choice of a candidate who must operate the complex governmental machine, maneuver in the entangled system of international relations, make decisions that are thought through many steps ahead, upon which many people's life and its quality critically depend? During the 2008 presidential elections, standing in a queue to vote, I asked a student standing ahead of me why she was voting for Obama (her choice was clear from the picture on her T-shirt). She said she wanted "change". To the question what change, she answered, "Any". At first, I was sorry for her, but then, there were many young people like her there, wearing the same popular T-shirts.

My choice was different, but I was impressed by their enthusiasm. Perhaps they are right, I thought. A young candidate, educated, confident in his abilities,  biracial and raised in a multicultural environment. Perhaps he is that hero who finally will rid the country of the brewing religious intolerance and racial prejudice. On the other hand, however, there was that "godfather", Reverend Wright, dubious friends, and slogans that were sadly familiar to any immigrant from the Soviet Union. I think that in that moment of fateful choice the majority in America was led by enthusiasm and expectation of a miracle rather than by sober deliberations.

The miracle, however, has not happened. I state this without glee but with sincere regret and anxiety for the future. I do not root for a particular team. I am for professionalism and reason. Political life is certainly more complex than the information about it available to "simple" Americans through mass media. As a "simple" American of Soviet origin, I do not make special effort to disentangle political complexities. I am a biologist and politics is not my sphere. But as a citizen of this country, I can see when things are getting out of control. It is usually easy to criticize, but in this case it is particularly so.

For a president, to make responsible decisions, defining the fate of not just this country but the world, requires knowledge of history, political experience, and a principled personal position. Friendly handshakes and warm embraces, unfortunately, have never been guarantors of mutual understanding in the world. To think that flattery and praise will melt hearts and disarm enemies is naive for a professional politician. As we have seen, this approach only exacerbates regional conflicts, stokes appetites of political blackmailers, and activates the race for world leadership. Politics resembles a game of chess with multiple opponents and is very risky, because the consequences of losing may be dramatic and irreversible. Unsurprisingly, in chess, only real masters play such games. It is possible but doubtful that Obama will draw correct conclusions from his almost two-year presidential experience, and if not improve the complex situation in the country and in the world then at least will "do no harm".

In two years we will again have to make our choice. Sometimes key words and analogies help to find a way in complex situations. For instance, would you want to have a doctor who would practice on you? Do you consider presidency an appropriate position for political training and radical social experiments? Hopefully, among the future candidates there will be people voting for whom will not call for choosing a lesser of evils, and the jingling "change" will not dampen the voice of reason.               

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Just thinking

Barack Hussein: "I believe that Muslims have... the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan".

Why not build it right where the towers stood? As tall or taller than they were? Nu, why not? Just a thought...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Monument to murderers

by Galina Kirillova

It is said that great times call for great people. Apparently, such times have long since passed for America. During the relatively long period of American prosperity, the government has become replete with individuals who are inordinately cynical, corrupt and simply daft. Driven by personal interests, they manipulate social consciousness, juggling with the concepts that for the majority of people still have moral value: the Constitution, equality before the law, freedom of speech and conscience, peaceful coexistence, respect for religious views, etc. Worse even, they shrewdly substitute and rig these concepts, counting perhaps on the simplicity of "simple Americans" - a recently popular definition of a part of the American population, about which the liberals care so much. Along with that, there is another popular expression, "rich people", with whom members of the government tend not to identify themselves. The prevalence of violations of law and unconscionable lies among the ruling elite is frightening. People who are not afraid of dishonor are dangerous, because little if anything keeps them from committing crime.

Is it then surprising that while the human tragedy of 9/11 is perceived as a personal disaster by the majority of Americans, decision-makers actively support building a mosque on the territory where 3,000 people were executed in the name of the same Allah who would be worshiped in that mosque? Can there be a monument to a murderer on the grave of his victim? Is it believable that the leadership of New York indeed protect the principles of the Constitution and democracy in this manner? If so, why is this protection so one-sided? Or is it that the structure priced at $100 mln is more attractive than common human values? There is nothing complex in the situation related to the plans of building a Muslim center, but it appears that in the structure of the American government there are no effective mechanisms capable of stopping the unethical actions with profound consequences for the American population. Probably the Founding Fathers could not foresee the degree to which morality, instinct of self-preservation and simply common sense might decay. And this is a national problem. Building the center is certain to result in a deep psychological trauma and will only exacerbate distrust toward the Muslim community.

There is no reason to believe that the planners of the construction worry about healing the wounds that their coreligionists inflicted on 9/11. They know that the center will be salt on those wounds. Those interested in this issue are likely to be familiar with the ideology of Islam. The media is full of materials about this amazing "religion of peace", which for centuries wages wars against the kuffar, "unbelievers". At the time of substantial social shifts in America, when some Christians got tired of Christianity, and Jews of Judaism, when America got tired of its well-being and world leadership and is rushing to the Utopian shores of social equality on which the Communist world has already crashed, America remains the country of endless possibilities. To wit, political promiscuity provides endless possibilities for the inhuman ideology that, in almost 1,500 years, has changed neither its goals (world domination) nor methods (subjugation and extermination of infidels), and, as Europe's example shows, has started taking over new territories.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Aesopian media and the Pollard-Dreyfus Affair

Somebody may think that either my paranoia grows or I am becoming too painfully nostalgic about the Soviet Union. You can decide whether it is either, both, or something else entirely. Here is the preamble to the story.

It's no news that in the Soviet Union a writer would seldom attempt to publish anything openly against the regime in the open media. It would be unreasonable: the media was completely state-controlled. Nothing would be published, but the writer would be ruined. Those who could not take it anymore had three options. The easiest was to write "into the desk", with no hope for that to be published. Another was to try to somehow publish a disloyal piece abroad. That was difficult: one had to have means of transporting the manuscript.  Contacts with a foreigner who could potentially take the manuscript out of the country were risky for both him and the writer. The writer had to be well known indeed for such an attempt to justify the effort and risk, which was exceedingly seldom. Smuggling out and publishing an openly critical piece abroad could end the writer's career in the USSR. Exile abroad would then be the best outcome, but not necessarily so good for the writer whose main audience and perhaps livelihood would be left behind. Samizdat and Tamizdat did help in keeping such a publication from being self-defeating, but not entirely: very few people had access to either. Also, one had to, again, be famous enough to be exiled rather than imprisoned or subjected to "psychiatric" treatment and forgotten, if not simply killed by the KGB. The other possibility, especially for well established authors, was to use the so-called Aesopian language or some such subterfuge that formally was not an overt anti-Soviet offense. Those works would be published in some journal targeting mostly intelligentsia, both because nobody else could understand the complexities of the writer's thinking, metaphors and allusions, and because, to do its job, intelligentsia needed some valve to let out steam that accumulated in any sentient being in a totalitarian state. This would both flatter the said stratum of the socialist society and give it an illusion of freedom and a pleasant feeling of being in opposition, but safe. "Кролики и удавы" (Rabbits and Boa Constrictors) by Fazil Iskander comes to mind, published in the journal "Юность" (Youth), one of such safety-valve journals. It was, however, 1988 already, perestroika, when the moribund trinity of the Party, State, and KGB was hardly trying to maintain what was left of the Communist anti-utopia. It had been published in 1982 in America, probably after sitting for some time in Iskander's desk, but being truly an Aesopian allegory perhaps did not qualify as an openly "anti-Soviet propaganda" to criminally persecute the well-known author.

Why, one might ask, am I rehashing the Soviet experience? Definitely not nostalgically. One reason is that The New York Times published a book review today with a sentence in it exactly like those you could see in one of such journals. A single sentence. The book is about Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a French army captain and a Jew, was in 1894 wrongfully accused of treason, dishonored and imprisoned on Devil's Island, a penal colony where most of the prisoners died of diseases and hardship. I have not read the book and do not know whether it discusses one of the outcomes of the Dreyfus Affair - Theodor Herzl's understanding that Jews needed a state of their own to survive. The review does not mention that. What it does mention in that one sentence is that Dreyfus's "prosecutors claimed, as more recent governments have done, that national security forbade them to reveal secret evidence that would have been decisive if known, and he was convicted all over again." This vague "more recent governments" begs the question which ones. And about whom and what - it seems unlikely that it's still about the Dreyfus Affair. And why not respond to these obvious questions right there, in the review. All that seems to be left to anybody's guess.

In the Soviet Union, it would be for intelligentsia to read between the lines, admiring the courage of the writer who managed to get a "seditious" statement through censorship unnoticed and unmolested. Intelligentsia was supposed to critically evaluate the actions of the government - emphasis on "critically". I am not certain if there is a similar, however vaguely defined, wide social group here in the US. People of the so-called intellectual occupations here tend to unquestioningly support the Democratic Party, hence the respective governments, and frequently focus on non-political matters otherwise. The uncritical loyalty to the Party, combined with hatred toward anything perceived to be "the other", is sometimes terrifying. Politically, their general orientation is overwhelmingly to the left, which is alike that for "intellectuals" in the pre-Bolshevik Russia, but rather unlike that in the post-Lenin/Stalin Russia. Those who lived there have already been to where the left direction takes the nations. In fact, the demagoguery that the Party employs is also often reminiscent of the pre-revolutionary Russian left's: Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader (the one who has been satisfied that Obama is "light-skinned" and has "no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one"), freely injects in his speeches the classic Communist class struggle language - "rich and powerful" vs. "the masses".

Being on the left calls for supporting everybody "poor" against the "rich", which includes "Palestinians" against Israel. It does not matter why they are poor, and whether they are even really poor. Inasmuch as Israel is capitalist, rich and powerful, she is the predator and the Arabs are the prey to care about or, rather, to feel good about caring. Israel is at fault regardless of history, facts and logic - unsurprisingly, just like the Jews... I was going to say, "used to be", but not really. It's quite easy to see, without invoking Occam's Razor, that "Israel" is a useful substitute for "Jews" in this modern progressive climate. Not only "Israel" makes antisemitism "legitimate", it allows full participation in Jew-bashing for the self-hating left-leaning Jews without the need to join the Communist Party, as they had to before. To be sure, atheism, particularly anti-Judaism, usually remains de rigeur, as it was with Communists.

Hatred for Israel, the cover for antisemitism, is where the left and the right converge, like Chomsky and Jim "f... the Jews" Baker. You still wonder whom the "more recent governments" treated about as horribly as the French did Dreyfus? I hope it will not be a surprise that the name I read between the lines is Jonathan Pollard. An Israeli spy who stole for Israel secrets from the US Navy Intelligence for which he worked. Neither the author of the review nor I are first to draw this comparison. An article did that in 1991. Yes, there is a difference: Dreyfus was absolutely innocent, but Pollard did indeed engage in espionage. There is, however, another difference: in contrast to Dreyfus, who did have a trial, however unfair, Pollard was never tried. He pleaded guilty in passing information to an ally with no intent to harm the US. The US government horribly violated that plea agreement. Dreyfus had been accused of treason - Pollard never was. Dreyfus had been accused in spying for an enemy - Pollard spied for a friend, after its friend refused to give Israel information it was entitled to. Israel was not being informed of Iraq's poison gas supplies. When Pollard asked why, the response was, "Jews are too sensitive to gas." 

Zola's letter helped to liberate Dreyfus, but no author, including juridical celebrities like Dershowitz, has been able to do anything for Pollard - the US republic seems to be less sensitive to protestations than the French democracy. People of conscience in the whole world, including Russia, commiserated with Dreyfus, but nobody hears about Pollard, forgotten as are other Jews in captivity (Gilad Shalit's name was hardly mentioned when the Gazans' culinary "sufferings" were recently lamented by the world community). No other spy caught at working for an ally in the US has ever got anything close to Pollard's life in prison - many of those who spied for enemies received shorter sentences and more lenient treatment. 

Pollard's imprisonment was the result of an event identical to what had happened during Stalin's purges: Pollard was buried by the fiat of the Politburo, namely Caspar Weinberger, a true criminal, whose secret memorandum was the only grounds for that. Nobody still knows what was in it - for the "reasons of national security", just like with Dreyfus. The promise of freedom for Pollard has served the Clinton government to extort concessions from Israel that were harmful to her - the promise, on which the US again reneged, like it did on other promises to Israel (e.g., understandings between Sharon and Bush that, according to the current openly anti-Israel Obama government, never happened). Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Williams famously wrote his dissent about "a fundamental miscarriage of justice" in Pollard's case. It seems, however, that no justice was carried at all nor is expected to be. The meek Soviet-like hints at the continuing injustice is the only thing the mainstream "intelligentsia" media is apparently capable of. In the Soviet Union, such hints were bravery. In America, they are closer to disgrace.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Geese and the Muslim civilization

An interesting film has made its way into the Uncharted Forest. Titled 1001 Inventions, it features "Oscar-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley". Copyrighted and bearing a "Not for reproduction" sign, it is reposted many times on YouTube with the titles like "THE BEST THING WEST DO ABOUT ISLAM" (sic). It does indeed come from the West, namely from the UK, from "a global educational initiative that promotes awareness of a thousand years of scientific and cultural achievements from Muslim civilisation from the 7th century onwards, and how those contributions helped build the foundations of our modern world." It is made in collaboration with the British "Jameel Foundation", which can be traced to an apparently Saudi gentleman, Abdul Latif Jameel, about whom "HRH Prince Saud ben Abdul Muhsin" said, "My friend, Engineer Mohammed Jameel, is considered a first-class community servant." The servant may be not that upstanding though, because his business has been monitored by the Saudi authorities "to trace whether they were being used, possibly unwittingly, to siphon money to terrorist groups". An English court in 2002 judged the Wall Street Journal report about that to be a defamation and awarded damages to Mr. Jameel, but that decision was later annulled by a higher court.

The film is made in the traditions of Harry Potter and National Treasure, with magic and ghosts of ancient inventors in turbans, and fairy-tale-like soundtrack. Whiffs of smoke containing drafts of things like airplanes and space shuttles appear in the air, giving an impression that they were thought about by the Muslim Leonardos. It sounds like we owe so much to the "Muslim civilisation".

With all the effects, however, it sounds about as convincing as the Soviet propaganda about how everything was first invented in Russia. But, with all the effects, it is much more pathetic than the Soviet propaganda. First, regardless of whether all the content is factually true, it is uncertain whether you can ascribe all these ancient inventions to the "Muslim civilization", or whether Islam had anything to do with those inventions, like, for instance, Judaism had to do with the "Jewish" discoveries, because of the spirit of intellectual inquiry and the value of education in the Jewish culture. Related to that, not all the famous ibn's and Abu's of that civilization were Muslim, even though they lived in the countries conquered by the Muslims. And not all Muslims associated with a discovery necessarily made it. Another difference is that at least the Soviets made their propaganda themselves for themselves. Here, the film  borrows a Western school setting - imaginary Western at that, a la Harry Potter's Hogwarts school, with a British actor suddenly turning into somebody donning a fairy-tale "Islamic" garb (is he possessed by some incubus - and why does he disappear at the end instead of just turning back into a British librarian?), to reveal the facts known from the Western history books - to what exactly audience? Is this part of the concerted and desperate effort to make Muslims feel good about themselves - the task that is assigned now even to NASA? Is it in hope that, reassured in this manner in their worthiness, Muslims will stop thinking about their more traditional means of reassuring themselves - by jihad, murder, terror and conquest? It was not by gentle persuasion and awe of the Muslim "1001 inventions" that "For a thousand years, Muslim civilisation stretched from southern Spain as far as China", as the website puts it.

The film originates from the exhibition in the British Museum, and "was created by the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation  (FSTC), a British based non-profit, non-religious and academic organization. Working with world’s leading academics, 1001 Inventions engages with the public through educational media and interactive global exhibitions, in order to highlight the shared cultural and technological inheritance of humanity." Not much about humanity in that film - none but the Muslim religion is mentioned, although the website gives a brief nod to "highlight the scientific and technological achievements made by men and women, of different faiths and cultures that lived in Muslim civilization".

The most pathetic thing about this, however, is the very fact that to prove their worth (to whom?), Muslims or their enthusiastic British fans cannot appeal to anything but "their" achievements of many centuries ago. In a fable, geese who did not want to become a meal argued that because their ancestors had saved Rome they were exempt. The argument did not work for the geese, if you are unfamiliar with the fable. The Islamic culture of today has so far brought into the world medieval mentality, mass murder, barbaric executions of innocents, female genital mutilation and enslavement, global blackmail and suppression of free speech, wars, rebirth of genocidal antisemitism and other similar achievements that no feel-good 1001 Inventions film or NASA Muslim outreach can fix - neither to convince Westerners nor to mollify the jihadis. The 1001 Nights was at least fun to read.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An obscure folio, evolution, and Islam

Rabbi Hillel first introduced the Golden Rule - in its negative and feasible form, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow" (Jesus, many years later, reportedly put the rule in its positive form). R. Hillel considered this main rule of social behavior to be as important as to summarize the entirety of the Torah. He also famously said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" (Pirke Avot, 1:14). As befits a true genius, these sayings have universal applicability. That is probably why they also apply to the half-selfish topic of this entry. It concerns a monograph, The Science, Treatment, and Prevention of Antisocial Behaviors (Vol. 2), published six years ago. The monograph is not advertised - there is not even an editorial review on Amazon.com (and it was not originally sold there) - because, as the publisher once explained to me, the book does not target general audience but is intended for policy makers, experts, etc. I am not sure whether this is the best policy even for the alleged target audience. The book ranks 3,163,794 in Amazon.com sales, which likely means that it sells less than one copy a year - and there should definitely be more interested  experts than that.

How do I know? Why should I worry? And how R. Hillel's maxims are relevant? It is obvious that antisociality contradicts the Golden Rule. As for Hillel's triad, I contributed a chapter to that book, and it's about time another couple of people found out about it. Admittedly, it is not popular science, but it is not a trigonometry textbook either, and some information in it may be of interest to an educated reader. 

The chapter (Chapter 4) has a vague, or rather too generic, title, Evolution, Genes, and Environment - Neurobiological Outcomes. It does deal, however briefly, with all these areas as pertains to antisocial behavior. What the title does not immediately reflect, however, is one of the sections, which is germane to the general direction of this blog. The section is titled Logic of Suicide, Mass Murder, and Altruism. In addition to the general issues relating evolution to these titular phenomena (it is not straightforward and requires some discourse, for instance, how suicide can be "beneficial" from the evolutionary standpoint), it includes a discussion of Muslim "martyrdom". The discussion addresses the role of the uniquely human function of the human brain, metaphoric thinking, truly amalgamated in the Muslim tradition with reality, in simulating reproductive benefits in the acts of self-destruction. Considering that this amalgamation results in the suspension of the powerful self-preservation instinct in shahids, the murderous "martyrs", it is not surprising that regular human sympathies are suspended as well. That point is highlighted by the scarcely noted in the media but telling story of how schoolgirls in Saudi Arabia were forced to die in fire by the "religious" police: the girls were pushed back into their burning school because they did not have a chance to put on their abayas, black robes worn over dresses. The text explains sex differences in suicidal terrorism and the mechanisms of xenophobic indoctrination. It compares the eusocial behavior of Hymenoptera insects (such as bees) and the boundaries of altruism in humans, relaxed to malignancy by both Islamic metaphors and material gains of the families of suicidal murderers. Some attention is paid to the contribution of the media in poisoning the information space with lethal misinformation that cannot in principle be remedied by truth even if it were to follow, which it seldom does. 

Despite the rather grim picture arising from this discussion, the conclusion is cautiously positive: "the history of cultural evolution leaves some hopes for the future of sociality. In particular, one of the trends that has expressed itself in the religious codes corresponds to the extension of inclusive fitness to the group, tribe, state and alliance levels. Torah in Leviticus (19:18) commands, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord”—the word “neighbor” covers all humans (Hertz, 1980). The same metaphor that allows inclusive fitness [the summary effect of all factors that promote or hinder reproduction of the individual's genes] to cover non-relatives in aggression and underlies xenophobia, can thus be turned into its [truly] prosocial form. This creates an opportunity for the fulfillment of Darwin's dream of humans' extending their “social instincts and sympathies” to “all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him,” and then to “the men of all nations and races” (The Descent of Man). We may soon find out whether this conclusion is too optimistic and a much darker evolutionary outcome is on the horizon.