Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Reply to a "Fearfully-Concerned Muslim"

PJM has a sort of stilted dialogue between a Muslim named Selim Mansur and Roger Simon, called "Letters from a fearfully-concerned Muslim to an American Jewish friend. The link provides access to the third such letter. Here is my reply to whom I consider a sincere Muslim who simply seeks a sort of Moses Maimonides and a "Guide for the Perplexed."

"I am a trained Arabist, who was taught at the Foreign Service Institute in DC & Beirut and attained a 3+ level speaking- and 4-level reading proficiency. I worked in three embassies in the Middle East in Arab countries and consider myself reasonably knowledgeable concerning the history of the Arab and Muslim peoples over the last 1400 years. Indeed, I read one of Marshall Hodgson’s books, The Gunpowder Empires, one of the three that Mr. Mansur so heartily recommends. And I did this at the recommendation of Rashid Khalidi, then a professor at the U. of Chicago where he became a confidante of our present President, and whom I count as a personal friend despite profound differences on many issues. In point of fact, Rashid got me faculty privileges at the U.of Chicago’s library, which has the most impressive collection of Islamic literature and manuscripts in the western hemisphere.

However, the atrocity of 9/11 and subsequent attempts by Muslims at special pleading and ridiculous arguments that the US somehow brought this absolute act of war and massive crime on itself was argued by persons who now have excluded themselves from the circle of civilized dialogue. To blame the atrocity on Israel or even the CIA demonstrates how demented [Charlie Sheen is a so-called 'truther' & this fits the pattern] that the insane America-haters have become. There are simply boundaries beyond which no civil dialogue can take place.

Mr. Mansur seems to be honest on the face of his arguments, but the basic and key premise of Islam is that Muhammed is the last prophet and the dialogue between God and Man cannot be further extended now that the revelation accorded to this prophet has closed the books, so to speak, on any religious development outside the extremely narrow purview of this 1400-year old “revelation.”

I’m afraid that he will be repudiated by his own kith and kin and more importantly, that he speaks only for himself when he wishes for a dialogue among Christians, Jews and Muslims, for starters.

The problem that all highly-educated Arabs will admit to in macro-historical terms lies in the simple fact that Islam has not experienced, in any real sense, the huge “transmutational experience” of the Renaissance that Hodgson refers to in his works. In a very real sense, this eliminates the basis for any true dialogue—as a real mature discussion of essential and existential conundrums facing both the West and the fractured body of Islam lack a common language. As Bernard Lewis mentions several times in his works, the inexorable rise of Salafi Islam through its Wahhabi traits has been dragging Islam back into medieval and Dark Age mindsets ever since the middle of the 18th century, when the Enlightenment was topping off many of the interesting avenues opened by the rise of science and advanced mathematics which in turn has led us to the Atomic Age.

E.M. Forster has an absorbing monograph “Alexandria” written during his World War II sojourn in that Egyptian city . Forster’s probing mind traversed the history of the city since its eponymous founder and had an interesting metaphor for the 7th c. conquest of the great city by Ibn al-Walid and his desert warriors. To paraphrase Forster: “The zealous warriors of Islam found the great library and all the other appurtenances left of what had been the highest level any city had attained in the civilized history of mankind, and like a child with a watch who knows nothing of the strange mechanics of the piece, broke it and left it broken as a child would leave a broken watch, without even knowing what he had done….”

Of course, Bernard Lewis is eloquent later on in tracing the history of science under Islam, but that historical development started in the Abbasid Dynasty and lasted until the Greek and Syriac and Persian classics on math and physics and medicine and literature had been absorbed and in some cases improved upon [logorithms & such], but then by the fall of Baghdad in 1258 with Helagu’s conquest and destruction of the first city of Islam, the poem Ozymandias became later on a symbolic objective correlative of everything lost in translation."

I wrote this early in the morning and hope it doesn't sound as disjointed as I felt writing it.

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