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Paris, Charb quotes Zapata or Sartre — or Hobbes?

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — chasing a wild, but eventually mummified and golden, goose ]
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quote-it-is-better-to-be-the-widow-of-a-hero-dolores-ibarruri

**

Richard Landes wrote a piece on Paris the other day for the LA Times Review of Books’ Marginalia blog, in which he said:

In the words of the martyr in chief, “Charb,” taken up as the manif’s motto: “Better to die standing than live on one’s knees.”

Indeed, in an interview with Le Monde, Charb is quoted as having said:

Je n’ai pas de gosses, pas de femme, pas de voiture, pas de crédit. C’est peut-être un peu pompeux ce que je vais dire, mais je préfère mourir debout que vivre à genoux.

Stéphane Charbonnier — Charb — the editor of Charlie Hebdo, lived those words. But was he quoting?

**

There’s a passage in Joseph Heller‘s Catch 22:

“They are going to kill you if you don’t watch out, and I can see now that you are not going to watch out. Why don’t you use some sense and try to be more like me? You might live to be a hundred and seven, too.”

“Because it’s better to die on one’s feet than live on one’s knees,” Nately retorted with triumphant and lofty conviction. “I guess you’ve heard that saying before.”

“Yes, I certainly have,” mused the treacherous old man, smiling again. “But I’m afraid you have it backward. It is better to live on one’s feet than die on one’s knees. That is the way the saying goes.”

“Are you sure?” Nately asked with sober confusion. “It seems to make more sense my way.”

“No, it makes more sense my way. Ask your friends.”

**

The quote has been attributed, with greater or lesser validity, to:

  • Albert Camus
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • In Australian jest, it has been attributed to Thomas Hobbes:

    In the December 1982 edition of Rolling Stone, Thomas Hobbes published a scathing review of Midnight Oil’s ‘10-to-1’ album. Midnight Oil, Hobbes claimed, were corrupting Australian youth with such politically incendiary tracks as ‘Short Memory’ and ‘US Forces’. But it was the lyrics to ‘The Power and the Passion’ with which Hobbes took particular issue, writing:

    We hear that “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees”. How foolish! What vainglory! Who penned such rot? Was it Hirst, Moginie or Garrett? Have The Oils taken leave of their senses? Anybody who has lived through the English Civil War and who can ratiocinate knows that the opposite is true. Standing up for political ideals can only lead to political subversion, civil unrest and, ultimately, civil war. And with civil war comes a return to the State of Nature — a state in which all persons, upright, kowtowed and procumbent, face the constant threat of death; a state in which, as I have argued elsewhere (see my Leviathan (Bohn, 1651)), life for all is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. All things considered, therefore, it’s better to live on one’s knees than to die on one’s feet.

    In this entry I’ll give a few working examples of political idealism and political realism before moving onto Hobbes’ criticism of the former and his argument that domestic peace and commodious living require us to forfeit our political ideals lest they undermine the sovereign’s authority.

    **

    Jennifer Speake, in A Dictionary of Proverbs, attributes the quote to Dolores Ibarruri, La Pasionaria, in a speech given on September 3rd, 1936. La Pasionaria was a Basque, and a Republican in the Spanish Civil War, to whom the similar but so different quote at the head of this post is also attributed. Speake goes on to list Emiliano Zapata as another to whom the quote is often attributed, and to list various later uses.

    And hey, the quote has also been attributed toL

  • Che Guevara
  • **

    Okay, so who actually died on his knees? Tutankhamun, apparently:

    The pharaoh’s injuries have been matched to a specific scenario – with car-crash investigators creating computer simulations of chariot accidents. The results suggest a chariot smashed into him while he was on his knees – shattering his ribs and pelvis and crushing his heart.

    Tutankhamun 602

    Sisi followup: two publications of significant interest

    Friday, January 16th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — SH Nasr’s The Study Quran and the Diyanet collection of ahadith ]
    .

    Quran & Ahadith

    **

    In a recent post I quoted President Sisi‘s speech calling for “a revolution” in Islamic thinking about “that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries” and which is now “antagonizing the entire world”. I would like to bring your attenbtion here to two publications which may well provide support for such a rethinking: SH Nasr’s The Study Quran and the Diyanet collection of ahadith

    **

    The Study Quran:

    I have seen some of the proofs of this Quran, and it strikes me that once it is published (in Fall this year) it is likely to be the resource of record for anyone lacking in depth Arabic language skills and knowledge of Islamic thought across history. Superb, and very auspiciously timed.

    From their prospectus:

    In The Study Quran, renowned Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr and a team of editors address the deeper spiritual meaning of the Quran, the grammar of difficult passages, legal and ritual teachings, ethics, theology, sacred history, and the place of various passages of the Quran in Muslim life.

    For the first time, both Muslims and scholars will have a clear and reliable resource for looking up the history of interpretation for any passage in the Quran—together with a new, accurate English translation.

    From the book itself:

    The Quran is the constant companion of Muslims in the journey of life. Its verses are the first sounds recited into the ear of the newborn child. It is recited during the marriage ceremony, and its verses are usually the last words that a Muslim hears upon the approach of death. In traditional Islamic society, the sound of the recitation of the Quran was ubiquitous, and it determined the space in which men and women lived their daily lives; this is still true to a large extent in many places even today. As for the Quran as a book, it is found in nearly every Muslim home and is carried or worn in various forms and sizes by men and women for protection as they go about their daily activities. In many parts of the Islamic world it is held up for one to pass under when beginning a journey, and there are still today traditional Islamic cities whose gates contain the Quran, under which everyone entering or exiting the city passes. The Quran is an ever present source of blessing or grace (barakah) deeply experienced by Muslims as permeating all of life.

    Inasmuch as the Quran is the central, sacred, revealed reality for Muslims, The Study Quran addresses it as such and does not limit it to a work of merely historical, social, or linguistic interest divorced from its sacred and revealed character. To this end, the focus of The Study Quran is on the Quran’s reception and interpretation within the Muslim intellectual and spiritual tradition, although this does not mean that Muslims are the only intended audience, since the work is meant to be of use to various scholars, teachers, students, and general readers. It is with this Book, whose recitation brings Muslims from Sumatra to Senegal to tears, and not simply with a text important for the study of Semitic philology or the social conditions of first/seventh-century Arabia, that this study deals.

    **

    The other publishing venture of great interest in this context is Turkey’s Diyanet project for a contemporary selected edition of the Hadith.

    Emran El-Badawi, co-director of the newly formed International Qur’anic Studies Association, told the Christian Science Monitor in 2013:

    Change is certain to come to the Islamic world, not just to the streets of Cairo or Istanbul but deep within Islam’s religious tradition as well. The Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, called the Diyanet, recognizes this with its seven-volume revision of the Hadith – which is the source of Sharia law and second only to the Quran.

    Thousands of the prophet’s sayings and traditions were circulated and eventually collected in the centuries after his death in 632. The sheer size of Hadith collections and their archaic 7th century Arabian context have made the texts too intractable for many Muslims today. This is the challenge which the six-year Turkish Hadith project, with its selections and interpretive essays, seeks to overcome.

    The central issue surrounding the Hadith, as with other foundational religious works such as the Bible, is whether it should be read literally or in a historical context and for its inspired message. A literal reading, for instance, may seek to justify medieval practices like severing the hands of thieves or allowing underage marriage. An inspired interpretation would see them as historical practices absent the kind of rule of law that democracies like Turkey have today.

    The question for Turkey’s new multi-volume set is whether its contemporary interpretations can be widely appreciated by the Islamic community, or whether they will be considered too avant-garde – the fate of previous modern interpretations.

    Elie Elhadj, in his post A Turkish Martin Luther: Can Hadith be Revised? on on Joshua Landis‘ Syria Comment blog wrote in 2010:

    The Indian Islamic thinker Muhammad Ashraf observed that it is curious that no caliph or companion found the need to collect and write down the Hadith traditions for more than two centuries after the death of the Prophet (Guillaume, Islam, 1990, 165). Ignaz Goldziher concludes “it is not surprising that, among the hotly debated controversial issues of Islam, whether political or doctrinal, there is none in which the champions of the various views are unable to cite a number of traditions, all equipped with imposing Isnads” (Goldziher, Muslim Studies, 1890, Vol. II., 44). John Burton observes, “the ascription of mutually irreconcilable sayings to several contemporaries of the Prophet, or of wholly incompatible declarations to one and the same contemporary, together strain the belief of the modern reader in the authenticity of the reports as a whole” (Burton, An introduction to the Hadith, 1994, xi).

    Leaders of Turkey’s Hadith project say successive generations have embellished the text, attributing their political aims to the Prophet Muhammad (BBC, February 26, 2008).

    And Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor for Reuters noted in 2013:

    The collection is the first by Turkey’s “Ankara School” of theologians who in recent decades have reread Islamic scriptures to extract their timeless religious message from the context of 7th-century Arab culture in which they arose.

    Unlike many traditional Muslim scholars, these theologians work in modern university faculties and many have studied abroad to learn how Christians analyse the Bible critically.

    They subscribe to what they call “conservative modernity,” a Sunni Islam true to the faith’s core doctrines but without the strictly literal views that ultra-orthodox Muslims have been promoting in other parts of the Islamic world.

    As to its likely influence, in Egypt and thus (I infer) on Sisi’s project, Heneghan offers this hint:

    “Among intellectuals in Egypt, there is a welcome for this new interpretation which they think is very important for the Arab world to be exposed to,” said Ibrahim Negm, advisor to Egypt’s grand mufti, the highest Islamic legal authority there.

    **

    I haven’t seen any reference as yet to the preparation of an English translation.

    The Islam we hope to read into Sisi’s al-Azhar speech

    Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — bearing in mind Ian McEwan’s comment, “General Sisi or Isis — the palindrome is apt” ]
    .

    Sisi speaks at al-Azhar

    President Sisi speaks at al-Azhar

    **

    President Sisi of Egypt made a remarkable speech to the assmbled dignitaries of al-Azhar the other day. The Coptic Christian scholar Raymond Ibrahim has a translation of the relevant section:

    I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing — and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

    That thinking — I am not saying “religion” but “thinking” — that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

    Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

    I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema — Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

    All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

    I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost — and it is being lost by our own hands.

    **

    Let me first draw a few relevant distinctions in regards to an Islamic Revolution (Sisi’s term), Reformation (cf Luther) or Enlightenment (cf Voltaire):

  • there is what Sisi would like to see
  • there is what Sisi would like to communicate
  • there is what various schools of Islam think Sisi intends
  • there is what we would like to think Sisi wants to communicate
  • there is what we would like to think Sisi would like to see
  • there is what we ourselves would like to see
  • **

    Mark Movsesian at First Things offers this caution:

    Some are praising Sisi for his bravery. That’s certainly one way to look at it. When Sisi calls for rethinking “the corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years,” he may be advocating something quite dramatic, indeed. For centuries, most Islamic law scholars—though not all—have held that “the gate of ijtihad,” or independent legal reasoning, has closed, that fiqh has reached perfection and cannot be developed further. If Sisi is calling for the gate to open, and if fiqh scholars at a place like Al Azhar heed the call, that would be a truly radical step, one that would send shock waves throughout the Islamic world.

    We’ll have to wait and see. Early reports are sometimes misleading? there are subtexts, religious and political, that outsiders can miss. Which texts and ideas does Sisi mean, exactly?

    That last comment in particular encapsulates my own response to Sisi’s speech. When Sisi speaks of “that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries” is he referring to the Qur’an? I am certain he is not. The ahadith of Bukhari? I strongly doubt it. The accumulated corpus of fiqh? That would be my guess.

    Perhaps someone with access to the original of Sisi’s speech can clarify these matters.

    **

    In any case, it is worth noting that Sisi is not the first to make such a call.

    Prof. Ali Khan‘s paper, The Reopening of the Islamic Code: The Second Era of Ijtihad, opens with the observation:

    For more than a hundred years now, an accord has gradually emerged among Muslim scholars that Islamic classical jurisprudence (fiqh) must be reformulated to meet the needs of Muslim communities

    In more detail:

    Mainstream Muslim scholars and jurists from across the world seem to have reached a near-consensus that, although the Basic Code cannot be abandoned, it must be re-interpreted to establish legal systems that respect classical fiqh but also incorporate change. This evolutionary call — “that history, as a continuous movement in time, is a genuinely creative movement and not a movement whose path is already determined” — is made to extract Muslims from historical stalemate and expose them to ceaseless dynamism. Every day, in the words of the Quran, shines with new splendor, majesty and freshness.

    What, in Khan’s view, comnstitutes the Basic Code?

    This article is founded on a fundamental premise that the Quran and the Sunna constitute the immutable Basic Code, which should be kept separate from ever-evolving interpretive law (fiqh).

    Khan notes:

    Muslims have at least three options with respect to the Basic Code. First, they privatize faith, embrace secularism, and divorce lawmaking from the Basic Code. Second, they alter the text of the Basic Code to meet modern needs. Third, they accept the Basic Code as a permanent guide for individual and social life but see the Code as a flexible and evolutionary source.

    He then comments:

    The first option has been tried but the confrontation with religious forces opposing secularism has often maligned the secular state. The second option is unacceptable to all Islamic communities. The third option seems to be the most suitable alternative for the material and spiritual development of the Muslim world.

    I hope that provides some background to Sisi’s remarks…

    Another formulation of what we might look for from a renewal of Islamic scholarship comes from Bassam Tibi:

    To me religious belief in Islam is, as Sufi Muslims put it, “love of God,” not a political ideology of hatred. .. In my heart, therefore, I am a Sufi, but in my mind I subscribe to ‘aql/”reason”, and in this I follow the Islamic rationalism of Ibn Rushd/Averroes. Moreover, I read Islamic scripture, as any other, in the light of history, a practice I learned from the work of the great Islamic philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun. The Islamic source most pertinent to the intellectual framework of this book is the ideal of al-madina al-fadila/”the perfect state”, as outlined in the great thought of the Islamic political philosopher al-Farabi.

    And there’s plenty of reading to follow up on there…

    ** ** **

    Older even than my beloved Oxford —

    al-azhar-lecture
    A lecture in al-Azhar mosque, Cairo, 12 December 2011. Photo credit: Tom Heneghan

    A lecture at al-Azhar, undated postcard, image credit Postcard Memory Palace

    A lecture at al-Azhar, undated postcard, image credit Postcard Memory Palace

    — the tradition of Islamic scholarship at al-Azhar has been with us beyond than a thousand years.

    Serpent logics: the marathon

    Sunday, November 24th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — oh, the sheer delightful drudgery of finding patterns everywhere ]
    .

    I’ll start this post, as I did the previous one to which this is a sort of appendix, with a (deeply strange, tell me about it) example of the…

    Matrioshka pattern:


    That’s a piece of jewelry made out of disembodied pieces of Barbies from the extraordinary designer’s mind of Margaux Lange, FWIW.

    **

    This post is the hard core follow up to my earlier piece today, Serpent logics: a ramble, and offers you the chance to laugh and groan your way through all the other “patterns” I’ve been collecting over the last few months. My hope is that repeated (over)exposure to these patterns will make the same patterns leap out at you when you encounter them in “real life”.

    Most of the examples you run across may prove humorous — but if you’re monitoring news feeds for serious matters, my hunch is that you’ll find some of them helpful in grasping “big pictures” or gestalts, noting analomalies and seeing parallels you might otherwise have missed.

    Have at it!

    **

    Here’s another Matrioshka, from the structural end of lit crit that my friend Wm. Benzon attacks with gusto over at New Savannah:

    **

    Enantiodromia:

    You’ll recall this is the pattern where something turns into its opposite… as described in this quote from the movie Prozac Nation:

    I dream about all the things I wish I’d said.
    The opposite of what came out of my mouth.
    I wish I’d said
    “Please forgive me. Please help me.
    I know I have no right to behave this way?”

    Here are a few examples…

    Ahmed Akkari Repents Violent Opposition to Danish Cartoons Lampooning Islam:

    After a Danish newspaper published cartoons satirizing the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, Ahmed Akkari spearheaded protests that ultimately cost the lives of 200 people. Now he says he’s sorry. Michael Moynihan on what changed Akkari’s mind.

    That’s impressive!

    That one’s run of the media mill…

    And this one’s from my delightful, delicious boss, Danielle LaPorte:

    **

    A friend sent me this:

    **

    Let’s just plough ahead…

    Nominalism:

    Nominalism is the category where the distinction between a word and what it represents gets blurry — a very significant distinction in some cases —

    How’s this for naming your donkey after your President?

    Consider this one, another instance of nominalism in action, from the French justice system:

    A mother who sent her three-year-old son Jihad to school wearing a sweater with the words “I am a bomb” on the front, along with his name and ‘Born on September 11th’ on the back, was handed a suspended jail sentence on Friday for “glorifying a crime”. A court of appeal in the city of Nimes, southern France, convicted Jihad’s mother Bouchra Bagour and his uncle Zeyad for “glorifying a crime” in relation to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001.

    The classic nominalist image — with which I’d compare and contrast the French three-year-old with the unfortunate name and tsee-shirt — is Magritte’s cdelebrated “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”:

    And here’s one final nominalist example:

    **

    The spiral:

    Here’s a potential downwards spiral, for those watching India:

    **

    Straight parallelism:

    This one’s from Jonathan Franzen:

    And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may well prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii. And, yes, the thermonuclear warheads are still in their silos and subs.

    **

    Simple Opposition:

    **

    Some of these categories seem pretty fluid — or to put that another way, some of these examples might fit with equal ease into several doifferent categories. Here’s another oppositional class:

    Arms crossed:

    From Ezra Klein and Evan Solta blogging at WaPo’s Wonkbook: The Republican Party’s problem, in two sentences:

    It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.

    A great “values” juxtaposition:

    And hey, nice phrasing:

    **

    Here’s an example of one of the central patterns of violence and justice:

    Tit for Tat:

    [ the account this tweet came from, which was a media outlet for Shabaab, has since been closed — hence the less than euqal graphical appearance of this particular tweet… ]

    **

    And here, without too much further ado, is a whole concatenation of…

    Serpents biting their tails:

    [ … and that last one of Nein‘s appears to have been withdrawn from circulation ]

    This one I love for its lesson on biblical pick-and-choose:

    This one is also a DoubleQuote:

    when closely followed by:

    And this one really bites:

    **

    To close the series out with more of a bang than a whimper, here’s Serpent bites Tail with apocalypse & gameplay for additional spice:

    And a little child shall lead them…

    Monday, October 14th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — on two viral videos of children ]
    .

    Malala Yousafzai has been in many hearts and minds recently, and deservedly so. Her speech before the United Nations Youth Assembly, like her John Stewart interview, went viral on YouTube– here’s a version that has the grace to include her opening invocation of the Name of God:

    Thinking idly about her the other day I was reminded of anither video of a schoolchild that went viral just a few months ago — this one the more off-the-cuff speech of a boy, Ali Ahmed, interviewed on the street. He’s twelve, Malala spoke at the UN on her sixteenth birthday, but he testifies eloquently to Malala’s point by his own obvious clarity and intelligence:

    I think it’s worth holding these two video clips in mind together, the young woman and the young man, she almost fatally wounded and now recovered, he happening to be at the right spot on the right moment to be interviewed, her words reaching us directly in her fluent English, his coming to us only via sub-titles, as in an art-house “foreign” movie… If she has eclipsed him, let us remember him again.

    The intelligence, the clarity. the education. And how many thousands more must there be, unviral and unsung, but no less intelligent?

    **

    Unless ye become as little children, saith the Gospel, and a little child shall lead them, saith the Prophet.


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