Sunday, March 12, 2006

London Review of Books Vol 28, 5 March 9th 2006

The LRB (Vol 28, 5) contains much of interest.

Charles Glass has a review essay about Osama Bin Laden, 'Cyber-Jihad' which starts with an evocation of the fears of the McCarthyite period as a comparison in fear. Now, the US is winning the body-count, but Osama has the upper hand and will attack again. Osama's Messages to the World is clearly an important text. There are ambiguities in Osama's messages, aside from the determination to attack the US. Here's an interesting quote:
"Anti-semitism of a vicious kind infects many of the bin Laden edicts. His rhetoric harks back
to a moment in early Islamic history, when Muhammad and his followers fought non-Muslim
tribes who happened to be Christian, Jewish and polytheist. ‘These Jews are masters of usury
and leaders in treachery,’ bin Laden stated in a 53-minute audiotape broadcast on 14 February
2003. ‘They will leave you nothing, either in this world or the next.’ In the same epistle, he
brought down the Prophet Muhammad’s wrath on the Jews:
Our umma has also been promised victory over the Jews, as our Prophet told us:
‘The Day of Judgment will not come until the Muslims fight and kill the Jews.
They will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will say: O Muslim,
oh servant of God, there is a Jew behind me, so come and kill him. This is except
for the boxthorn tree, which is the tree of the Jews.’
Although the passage above comes from a hadith of the Prophet that is not recognised by all
Muslims, its message is clear: defeat of the Jews is a religious priority. However, other epochs
in Muslim history, when the umma’s existence was not threatened, show that anti-semitism,
far from being essential to the Muslim message, is antithetical to it. Bin Laden, subtle in other
ways, rarely distinguishes between Zionism and Judaism, between Israeli actions against
Palestinians and the long history of Muslim-Jewish fraternisation throughout the Islamic world,
between the politics of the moment and the essential duty of Muslims to honour the previous
Peoples of the Book – Jews, Zoroastrians and Christians. Bin Laden’s anti-semitism contrasts
with the golden ages of Islam, when the Muslim world welcomed Jews fleeing Christian persecution
in Europe. The Ottoman Empire, the princely states of North Africa and Islamic Persia all made
themselves havens for Jews. In pre-British Iraq, Jews were so much a part of society’s fabric
that the banks closed, not on Friday for Muslim prayers, but on the Jewish Sabbath. Bin Laden
is introducing a new concept into Islam when he says, as he did in 1998: ‘Every Muslim, from
the moment they realise the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews and hates
Christians. This is a part of our belief and our religion.’ His belief perhaps, but not Islam’s. "

Finally a comparison between bin Laden and Savonarola

Eric Hobsbawm writes about a new biography of J.D.Bernal by Andrew Brown. Bernal comes across as dazzling as ever, but according to this authoritative review this volume is stronger on biography, especially the Irish background, than politics. Fred Steward in Swann & Aprahamiam's J.D.Bernal: A Life in Science and Politics (1999) gets mentioned, as does the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Bernal's relationship to state scientific policy as a Stalinist (willing to defend the 'charlatan' Lysenko).

Terry Eagleton writes about Fredric Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (Verso 2005) starts with a discussion of Benjamin and the Marxist predicament of either having or not having a 'blueprint' for the future. Eagleton finds a strand of 'negative utopianism' that Jameson apparently misses and is taken up by Russell Jacoby in Picture Imperfect. And here's what I really like: Eagleton says 'The only image of the future is the failure of the present'. Eagleton criticizes Jameson for confusing morality with moralism, but a brilliant review of a clearly brilliant book.

Tariq Ali contributes a Diary (sub required) from Libya, which includes an observation I've heard him make about hijabed women in Cairo, "it's what is worn below the neck that attracts attention." He discusses the cartoons crisis:
"It took five months of concentrated lobbying in the Muslim world by a travelling imam from
Denmark to manufacture this ‘anger’. In occupied Afghanistan about five hundred people joined
a demonstration. Were their thoughts on the cartoons or the ruin and destruction around them?
Feeling powerless, they used the cartoons as an excuse to march outside a US military base.
The marines opened fire and two young boys died."

Tariq contrasts the militancy of some to the newfound restraint of the Muslim Brotherhood, but also quotes Nasrullah the 'charismatic Hizbollah' leader saying, "if the faithful had carried out Ayatollah Khomeini’s injunction and killed the apostate Rushdie, the Danish newspaper editor would never have dared to publish these cartoons."

His take on the religious aspect is worth quoting at length:
"The religious objection to the cartoons is first that they portray the Prophet of Islam,
and second that they do so in caricature, a form of representation ‘painful’ to all believers.
There is nothing in the Quran itself that forbids portraits of the Prophet or anyone else.
There are proto-Judaic injunctions against idolatry, but these refer to the worship of statues
depicting gods and goddesses. Islamic tradition, the bulk of which was constructed after
Muhammad’s death, is contradictory on the matter. As the young religion conquered old
empires it was faced with practical problems. Whose image should replace that of the
Byzantine or Persian rulers on coins? There are early eighth-century Islamic coins with
an image of the Prophet. Even centuries later, in the post-Islamic Turkish and Persian
traditions, his image was not taboo.

"Back in London as I write this I have in front of me a striking edition of the illustrations
to the Miraj-nameh, an early medieval Islamic account of the Prophet’s ascent to heaven
from the Dome of the Rock and the punishments he observed as he passed through hell.
Some European scholars maintain that a Latin translation of this work might have given
Dante a few ideas. The stunning illustrations in this 15th-century copy were exquisitely
calligraphed by Malik Bakshi of Herat (now in Afghanistan) in the Uighur script. There are
61 illustrations in all, created with great love for the Prophet. He is depicted with Central
Asian features and seen flying to heaven on a magical steed with a woman’s head. There
are also illustrations of a meeting with Gabriel and Adam, a sighting of houris at the gates
of Paradise, and of winebibbers being punished in hell.

"Muhammad insisted he was only the Messenger, a human being, not a divinity, and the
main reason later Islamic tradition did not want his image shown was the fear it might be
worshipped (like that of Jesus and Mary), when that prerogative belonged to Allah alone.
But even in the absence of an image, the Prophet of Islam is worshipped as a virtual divinity,
otherwise the reaction of the ultra-orthodox to any perceived insult to him is incomprehensible. Muhammad’s son-in law, Caliph Ali, the posthumous inspirer of the Shia faction of Islam,
and his sons, Hasan and Hussein, are also represented in various religious art forms in Iran
and worshipped."


Post a Comment

<< Home