The Closing of the Cultural Mind?


June 11, 2018

Prominent Historian Bernard Lewis dies at 101


May 20, 2018

Prominent Historian Bernard Lewis dies at 101

https://www.dailysabah.com/history/2018/05/20/prominent-historian-bernard-lewis-dies-at-101

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Note: Prominent British-American historian Bernard Lewis, a leading scholar on Oriental and Middle Eastern studies, died Sunday at the age of 101, twelve days before his 102nd birthday.

Born to a Jewish family in London in 1916, Lewis completed his studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London in 1936. Three years later, he earned his PhD on History of Islam. He served in different agencies of the British military, intelligence and foreign office during World War II, and returned to SOAS. He was appointed Near and Middle Eastern History department chair in 1949. Between 1974 and 1986, he taught at Princeton University in New Jersey, a period that included some of his most famous works. He continued teaching at the Cornell University until 1990.

Known as one of the leading names in Oriental studies in the Western hemisphere, Lewis is widely recognized as the first foreign academic to deeply study Ottoman archives.

His works on the Islamic world were important at a time when terrorism and extremism were at the rise in the Middle East, and cited as the first academic to use the term “clash of civilizations,” which was later made famous by his Harvard colleague Samuel Huntington in 1993.

However, Lewis also faced criticism for ignoring colonialism or external effects as the source of problems and conflicts in the region. At a time when the U.S. and other partners invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in early 2000’s, he was one of the top-sought names for policymakers, including neo-conservatives of the U.S., and media.

During his career, he wrote more than 30 books and hundreds of articles. He was also competent in at least a dozen languages, the Post wrote. Speaking Sunday at an event in Istanbul, Professor Ilber Ortaylı, considered the most popular and influential Turkish historian alive, said that Lewis was very fluent in a number of languages, including Turkish, Persian, Arabic and classical Latin.

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Lewis is also known in Turkey for his stance on the Armenian issue. He argued that the mass killings of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 and afterwards cannot be defined as genocide and should be linked to World War I and other atrocities surrounding it.

Bernard Lewis at 100: An Appreciation

National Review asked friends and admirers of Bernard Lewis to say some words about the man and his achievements to mark the occasion of his 100th birthday today.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Bernard Lewis once asked me, Is there anyone who as a leader has really impressed you? And I said, well, you do. He smiled and said he was flattered, but asked about a political leader. And I had to think about it. He said the fact that you have to think about it so long is a mark of our time.

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From left: U.S. News & World Report editor-in-chief Mort Zukerman, Prof. Bernard Lewis, former U.S Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and AFTAU National Chairman Jon Gurkoff

Bernard Lewis was born in 1916, into a world writhing with conflict from all corners. A world poised for a century of war, of revolt, of treaties, of fighting for and against modern values. He watched as, from the ashes of destruction, there rose a world transformed: a world embarking farther down the path for freedom, equality, and prosperity than was previously thought possible. Bernard Lewis watched the birth of the modern world.

Having lived through the good times and the hard times, Bernard has truly become a leader whom I admire greatly. An unparalleled mind, a prescient adviser to many, he stands out for his humility, his warmth, and his honesty. There are few who are as respected by their foes as they are by their friends. An ardent historian of the Middle East, Bernard published his book The Middle East and the West in 1964. It was translated into Arabic by the Muslim Brotherhood. The translator wrote in the preface: “I don’t know who this person is but one thing is clear. He is, from our point of view, either a candid friend or an honest enemy and in any case one who disdains to distort the truth.”

I want to thank Bernard for his dedication, for his courage, and for his vast legacy. For this is what truly makes a leader and his work timeless. There is so much to celebrate in the life of Bernard Lewis. Happy birthday to a dear friend.

— Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Founder of the AHA Foundation, a Fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and the best selling author of Infidel (2007) and Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (2015).  

Claire Berlinksi 

I met Bernard Lewis only once, in 2010. I had been living in Istanbul for nearly six years and so had special reason to be awed by his reputation as the Heimdall of Ottomanist Valhalla.

He had been the first Westerner to examine the Turkish government archives, in 1950. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, published in 1961, revolutionized the study of the late Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic. It consigned his successors to writing footnotes.

The Turkish proverb “Türk’ün Türk’ten başka dostu yoktur” — the Turk has no friend but the Turk — is true and self-fulfilling. Turkey inspires in Arab and European countries suspicion and rancor. The sentiment is reciprocated. Fears of foreign conspiracies endlessly poison Turkish political debate; Turks believe they are under siege, and sometimes they are even right. Lewis had paid Turkey the compliment of curiosity and deep, honest study. In doing so, he had loved the country as no other Westerner had. The proverb is sometimes amended in Turkey:“Türk’ün Türk’ten ve Bernard Lewis’ten başka dostu yoktur” — the Turk has no friend but the Turk and Bernard Lewis.

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I was introduced to him by one of his disciples, Harold Rhode. Our drive to his home in Princeton had the aspect of a pilgrimage. Rhode carried with him a digital recorder. He followed Lewis around with it, he told me, just in case. There was something a bit ghoulish about this.

I was expecting a terrifying figure. But to my surprise, he was loveable. He was sweet and avuncular with me, and inspired instant affection and the urge to settle in for a good gossip. “His students call him Uncle Bernie,” Rhodes whispered. Uncle Bernie’s manners were exquisite, and while he walked slowly, he was otherwise suffering no obvious infirmity, nor the characteristic self-absorption of the elderly.

We discussed Turkey, of course. For reasons I wish I better understood, it was at the time widely reported and believed in the West that Turkey, under then–Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was “liberalizing.” This was not true. The government had for years been arresting its opponents, staging show trials, and terrifying journalists into cowed compliance.

Lewis likened Erdogan to Adnan Menderes, who was hanged by the military after the 1960 coup. He recounted an anecdote that subsequently made a translated appearance in his Notes on a Century. He’d been sitting in the faculty lounge in Ankara, he told me, several years into the Menderes regime. To everyone’s bewilderment, a professor said suddenly that Menderes was the father of Turkish democracy. What on earth could you mean, asked another. Well, said the first, Demokrasinin anasini s**ti – “he screwed the mother of Turkish democracy.” I had heard exactly the same joke about Erdogan.

Over lunch he said that while his memory for the archives remained unerring, his ability to commit to mind recent events was less reliable. For my part, I’m not sure if my most vivid recollection of him is true (it’s possible I later superimposed it over my real memories). But this is what I seem to remember him saying to me, in a voice low enough to escape Harold Rhode’s recorder: that I was not wrong, that the situation was as bleak as it looked, that the West and the Islamic world would exhaust and destroy each other, leaving the world to China and India.

The remark weighs on my mind. It’s easy to dismiss my own assessment as so much pessimistic self-indulgence. After all, what do I know? But it is not so easy to say, “What does he know?”

— Claire Berlinski is the author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too. She writes for Ricochet.com. 

Victor Davis Hanson 

Bernard Lewis reached a considerable popular audience after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when his earlier assessments of Muslim anger at the West (e.g., “The Roots of Muslim Rage”; What Went Wrong?) proved prescient. From the 1990s onward, Lewis, almost alone among scholars of Islam, had warned that the traditional diagnoses of contemporary Muslim and Arab furor at Europe and the United States, the dysfunction of the Middle East, and the either/or nihilism of Middle Eastern theocracy and autocracy were misguided and politicized. For Lewis, the implosion of the modern Middle East was not attributable to the usual academic bogeymen: imperialism, colonialism, Westernization, exploitation, or Zionism. Rather, he drew on a rich learning of Muslim history and literature, both to pay homage to earlier Islamic cultural achievements and to suggest that the recent spate of Islamic terrorism was largely aberrant and a reflection of late-19th- and 20th-century dysfunctions in Middle Eastern societies, which had mostly failed to adopt constitutional systems, transparency, human rights, free-market capitalism, religious tolerance, and equality of the sexes — at least in comparison with modern Western and Westernized nations that have found such protocols the keys to economic progress and social stability.

Millions in the late-20th-century Middle East, who had not found parity with the West and who lived in poverty and danger, were persuaded by both religious and autocratic authorities to redirect their rage at supposed Western oppressors — and especially at their own modernist detours from religious purity, which had left Islam weak and a shadow of its supposedly glorious past. In other words, if a man in Damascus or Cairo could not get a job, it was the fault of the West — and it was his own lack of religious purity that had permitted such injustice.

Because Lewis, a classical liberal, was not an activist and had enjoyed a half-century-long reputation as a sympathetic student of Islam, critics were at first dumbfounded and unable to deal with his bleak analyses. Detractors on the left charged that he was “blaming the victim”; even as some on the right, although more sympathetic to Lewis’s views, nevertheless objected that he was naïve in that the roots of Muslim rage were hardly new, but discernible throughout East–West tensions since the seventh century, that Islamic culture was fundamentally different from Christian culture (i.e., inherently more violent and intolerant), and that Lewis danced around issues such as the Armenian genocide.

Yet, because of his calm demeanor, engaging prose style, wit, and prolific and long record of scholarship, Lewis usually came out on top in these many disputes that arose in the second half of his career. Such was Lewis’s historical insight that almost alone he fashioned a framework for understanding the modern Middle East in ways that were both empirical and commonsensical — and more or less remain the standard Western understanding of why global terrorism is largely an Islamic phenomenon: Middle Eastern political, social, cultural, and economic failure — widely apparent to the Arab masses in the age of instant global communications — is blamed on the West rather than addressed through reform by the various countries’ autocratic rulers, who in turn buy off internal opposition from Islamic theocrats by subsidizing their extremism and terrorism as long as it is directed westward.

Until there is massive reform inside the Middle East and within Islam, we should expect the post–September 11 world to continue to be a place of instability and violence. In sum, the events of the new century seem to keep proving Lewis right about his diagnoses of the prior one.

— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.

Andrew C. McCarthy

As a federal prosecutor in 1993, I was placed in charge of one of the most important and unusual criminal investigations in the United States.

Its focus was the terrorist cell that had just bombed the World Trade Center and was at that moment engaged in an even more ambitious plot to bomb several New York City landmarks. The case was important for obvious reasons. It was unusual because we did not know what we were dealing with.

That’s where Bernard Lewis comes in.

We were straining against the Nineties manifestations of what today is rampant political correctness. Our suspects were all Muslims and proclaimed Islam as their motivation for war against the United States. Yet the official position of our government — then as now — was that Islam had nothing to do with their atrocities.

Having had little intersection with the faith that boasted over a billion adherents worldwide, I badly wanted our official position to be true. But doubts gnawed. Khomeini’s 1979 revolution, a self-proclaimed jihadist upheaval, was still fairly fresh history. So was Hezbollah’s mass murder of our marines in Lebanon, the emergence of Hamas, and the mujahideen triumph in Afghanistan, which seemed a pivotal domino in the Soviet Union’s collapse. Plus, my top suspect, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, was a blind man unfit to perform any acts useful to a terrorist organization, yet he was its unquestioned leader — a fact that obviously owed to his status as a renowned scholar of Islamic jurisprudence. Why, I wondered, would anyone figure that Bill Clinton and Janet Reno knew more about “true” Islam than the Blind Sheikh did?

Prosecutors can’t prove cases unless they can demonstrate what motivated the defendants to act. Political correctness is for the press room, not the courtroom. I needed to get a grip on what we were dealing with — fast.

So I made my best professional decision ever: I bought a copy of Islam and the West by Bernard Lewis.

What the West’s preeminent scholar of Islam taught this grateful student was that it was possible to acknowledge the richness of Muslim history yet still see Islam plain. One could appreciate the diversity and accomplishments in Islamic traditions and still see as sheer nonsense the notions that Islam was monolithically peaceful and tolerant, that its legal and political systems were seamlessly compatible with Western democracy, and that jihad was merely, as modern Western apologists insisted, an internal struggle for personal betterment. To the contrary, Lewis explained, “the overwhelming majority of early authorities . . . citing relevant passages in the Koran and in the tradition, discuss jihad in military terms.”

Professor Lewis made me realize that Islam was not one thing but several, many of them internally contradictory, often to the point of bloody conflict. Perhaps none of them have a monopoly on authenticity. The Blind Sheikh was an Islamic scholar and a dyed-in-the-wool terrorist. Emad Salem, my main informant witness who infiltrated the Blind Sheikh’s cell and almost single-handedly thwarted the New York City landmarks plot, was Egyptian-educated and patriotically drawn to America and the West. They are both devout Muslims.

Lewis is also an observer of incomparable insight. Over a half-century ago he foresaw the difficulty of democratizing Islamic societies, noting that attempts “to show that Islam and democracy are identical” were “usually based on a misunderstanding of Islam or democracy or both.” Islam, in fact, traditionally had a tyrannical streak, a culture of obedience to authority that was depressingly reminiscent of Communist societies, including in its antipathy to the West. Lewis ruefully wrote, “The humorist who summed up the Communist creed as ‘There is no God and Karl Marx is his Prophet’ was laying his finger on a real affinity.”

In 2004, Professor Lewis told Die Welt that “Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century.” A dozen years later, London has just elected its first Muslim mayor, an Islamist. I wouldn’t bet against Bernard Lewis.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review

Douglas Murray 

After the very few occasions I have been invited to speak at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London my feeling has tended to be that the place should be knocked down and the earth salted over. The memory of a single person reminds me to refrain from such uncharitable thoughts. For though it may now be unpleasantly radical, this part of the University of London once helped produce the young Bernard Lewis. For this, almost any subsequent sin ought to be forgiven.

But the truth is that scholars and writers of Lewis’s stature do not appear anywhere very often, not even in the course of a lifespan as considerable as the one he has lived. There have been few enough experts in any discipline of such depth, range, and influence. I doubt that there is any scholar — professional or amateur — of the Middle East or Islam who does not have a shelf dedicated to the works of Bernard Lewis. From The Arabs in History to Notes on a Century, his output is striking for its depth and broad accessibility as well as its extraordinary span. His works have long been the indispensable resource of academics, journalists, and policy makers alike.

If few people have matched Lewis’s depth of research, even fewer have returned to tell the tale without falling through the looking glass. Lewis came back time and again to tell the world what he found, in works filled with respect not only for his subject but also for his readers.

In recent decades the world has come to have special need of that learning. Always appreciated by the best among his peers, Lewis has also become the possession of the widest — and most grateful — possible public. Our public discussions on Islam and the West are always in need of improvement, but if they are more informed than they once were (and, despite some evidence to the contrary among a certain subset of elites, I sense that they are), it is in no small part because a young British scholar immersed himself in his subject, went to America, and helped influence the course not only of scholarship but of ideas. His mother country, as well as his alma mater, should feel enormous pride at the centennial of this son’s birth.

–Douglas Murray is the author of a number of books, including Bloody Sunday and is working on an expanded version of his earlier work Islamophilia

Jay Nordlinger

I first heard about Bernard Lewis in the 1980s, when I was in college. I took some courses in Middle East studies. My professors (leftists) mentioned him, as a Big Bad Conservative. But they couldn’t help speaking of him with respect. I was intrigued.

Flash forward to National Review after 9/11. We prevailed on Lewis to write a piece for us on the general situation. I say “we”: It was really our senior editor David Pryce-Jones, an old friend of Bernard’s. When people at other magazines saw Lewis in our pages — they might have been a touch envious. One couldn’t blame them.

In later years, I asked Bernard, “Did you ever think your expertise would turn out to be so useful to the world, and craved by it?” No, he said, absolutely not.

He has been a frequent guest on NR cruises: a sparkling guest, as well as a learned one, of course. I can see him holding court in a lounge, wearing a tuxedo, delighting his listeners, especially the women. But the woman he cares most for is Buntzie.

I have prized every meal, every conversation, with Bernard Lewis. One always learns things, and expands one’s repertoire of stories. I expect to be drawing on what Lewis has taught me for a lifetime. His teaching includes not a few jokes (from assorted countries).

In 2011, I filmed an interview with him, for a series called “The Human Parade.” In his home, two chairs had been set up: a big, comfortable armchair and a quite modest, uncomfortable-looking one. Bernard insisted he would be more comfortable in the second chair — leaving me in the grand one, and feeling sheepish.

Have you read his memoirs, Notes on a Century? When you do, you will know Bernard, pretty well.

In 1966, he was a founding member of MESA, the Middle East Studies Association. Forty years later, he was a founding member of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA). This had been created as an escape from MESA. The older organization had been taken over by radicals and ideologues, just as the Maoists had taken over Chinese studies.

That’s the way Bernard put it. He was genuinely hurt, I sensed, at what had happened to his field.

In his address inaugurating ASMEA, he quoted Dr. Johnson: “A generous and elevated mind is distinguished by nothing more certainly than by an eminent degree of curiosity. Nor is that curiosity ever more agreeably or usefully employed than in examining the laws and customs of foreign nations.” That is Bernard.

He is obviously one of the greatest historians of the Middle East we have ever had. He is a great historian, period, and a great scholar.

One year, a book of his was published in Hebrew translation — by the Israeli Defense Ministry. That same book was published in Arabic — by the Muslim Brotherhood. In his preface, the translator of the Arabic version said, “I don’t know who this author is, but one thing about him is clear: He is either a candid friend or an honorable enemy, and in either case is one who has disdained to falsify the truth.”

Some former students of Bernard’s refer to him as “the Imam.” I know just what they mean. Happy birthday, great one.

— Jay Nordlinger is a senior editor at National Review.

Daniel Pipes

Three quotes establish Bernard Lewis’s career. Martin Kramer, a former student of Lewis, sums up his teacher’s accomplishments:

Bernard Lewis emerged as the most influential postwar historian of Islam and the Middle East. His elegant syntheses made Islamic history accessible to a broad public in Europe and America. In his more specialized studies, he pioneered social and economic history and the use of the vast Ottoman archives. His work on the premodern Muslim world conveyed both its splendid richness and its smug self-satisfaction. His studies in modern history rendered intelligible the inner dialogues of Muslim peoples in their encounter with the values and power of the West.

The University of California’s R. Stephen Humphreys notes “the extraordinary range of his scholarship [and] his capacity to command the totality of Islamic and Middle Eastern history from Muhammad down to the present day.” And, as the late Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University put it on Lewis’s 90th birthday, he is “the oracle of this new age of the Americans in the lands of the Arab and Islamic worlds.”

Lewis’s career spanned a monumental 75 years, from his first article (“The Islamic Guilds”) in 1937 to his autobiography in 2012. Midway, in 1969, he entered my life. In Israel the summer between my sophomore and junior years in college, with my aspirations to become a mathematician in doubt, I thought of switching to Middle East studies. To sample this new field, I visited Ludwig Mayer’s renowned bookstore in Jerusalem and purchased The Arabs in History, Lewis’s 1950 book.

It launched my career. Over the next 47 years, Lewis continued to exert a profound influence on my studies. Although never his formal student, I absorbed his views, reading nearly all his writings and favorably reviewing seven of his books, far more than those of any other author. His name appears on 508 pages of my website. Beyond numbers, he more than anyone else has influenced my understanding of the Middle East and Islam.

That said, Lewis and I argued strenuously during the George W. Bush years, narrowly on Iraq policy (I was more skeptical of U.S. efforts) and broadly on the matter of bringing freedom to the Middle East (ditto).

I first met Professor Lewis in 1973 in London, when he generously invited me to his house and offered advice on my Ph.D. studies. I saw him recently at his small apartment in the Philadelphia suburbs. He’s impressively fit in body and mind, spending time on the computer, ever the raconteur (“What’s a Jewish joke? One which non-Jews can’t understand and Jews have heard a better version of”), and conjuring up anecdotes from a time before the rest of us were born (such as his 1946 discussion with Abba Eban about the latter’s career choices). It’s wonderful to see him doing well even if it’s sadly understandable that he no longer engages in scholarship nor opines on current events.

Lewis was born a mere 15 days after the Sykes-Picot agreement that defined the modern Middle East, and their common May centennial finds Syria and Iraq in shreds. And yet Bernard Lewis more than ever is an inspiration to his many self-identified disciples, including this one.

–Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum. He tweets @DanielPipes.

David Pryce-Jones 

Bernard Lewis knows more than anyone else about the world of Islam. That world is beyond the experience of most of us. Specialists, or “Orientalists” in the academic jargon, have familiarized the unfamiliar. Nowadays, pretty well all such specialists are either narrow-minded partisans in one or another of the causes that have turned the Middle East into an extensive battlefield, or else immersed in trivia of interest only to professors. Bernard is different; he’s the last in the Orientalist tradition of interpretation based on careful scholarship. There’s no one like him, and probably never will be.

Already as a teenager, he showed himself to be a born linguist, and it’s impossible to be interested in languages without also being interested in the people who speak them. I once heard him wonder if his Italian were good enough to give a lecture in it in Siena. He’s published authoritative studies illuminating some aspect of Turkish, Persian, or Arab society and culture, studies on faith and ethnicity, or race and slavery and Jews, war and politics and modernity. Brilliantly original books like The Muslim Discovery of Europe and What Went Wrong? are based on a lifetime’s research, reaching the painful conclusion that Muslims have believed in their superiority so uncritically and for so long that they lost contact with reality. However bad things may be, though, he never quite rejects hope for a better life.

Objective analysis of the sort was too much for Edward Said, a Christian who became the foremost apologist for the Arabs of his day. In his view, there was no such thing as Western scholarship about the world of Islam: Each and every Orientalist was an aggressor, sometimes openly, sometimes secretly, and in any case disqualified from any comment about the Middle East, especially where Israel was concerned. In the polemic that ensued, Said attempted to fit Bernard into this fanciful conspiracy. Bernard got the better of it by insisting on the universality of knowledge and reason.

A day came when I received a letter from Bernard approving of a book I had written. Since then, it has been my privilege to discover that friendship is as much part of his personality as scholarship. I see the humor in his face when he told me that the United States ought to deal with Iran and Iraq in alphabetical order. I see it again when he described the first Gulf war as “Kuwaitus interruptus.”

Among his wonderful stories is one about training Cypriot waiters as possible intelligence agents in 1940. I can recall almost word for word his warning that a clash of civilizations was now upon us. Sometimes I am asked if I have met any great men — Bernard is certainly one. In the words of the Jewish blessing, may he live to be 120.

–David Pryce-Jones is a senior editor at National Review and the author of The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs.

 

On Knowledge and statecraft


January 24, 2017

On Knowledge and statecraft

by Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin

http://www.thestar.com.my

Image result for Najib, Zahid Hamidi and Hishamuddin HusseinThe 3 UMNO Goons–Dr. Zahid Hamidi, Hishamuddin Hussein and Najib Razak. They do not qualify as Philisopber-Kings. They are Malaysia’s penyamun tarbus.

 

IN Plato’s Republic, the philosopher-king is a leader who loves and embodies the cardinal virtues of wisdom, temperance, courage and justice. Therefore, the community that produced him would dispense with the mechanisms of democracy meant to curtail misuse of power by corrupt politicians who preyed upon the masses because of their ignorance.

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried.” This may only refer to the inadequacies of the present set-up in producing leaders who do not require constant oversight.

The leader reflects the people. The Prophet said, “As you are, so shall your leader be.” He also said, “Each of you is a shepherd (ra‘in) and each of you is responsible for his flock (ra‘iyyah)”.

The Arabic word ra‘iyyah, from which the Malay word rakyat originated, has its root in ra‘in, which also means guide, guardian or caretaker. In the worldview of Islam, both the leader and the people form a unity; they are like a single body.

The Prophet also prophesied the emergence of leaders (umara) who “will be corrupt but God may put much right through them”. Therefore, the people are obliged to be thankful when leaders do good and patient when the leaders commit evil.

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The Proof of Islam, Imam al-Ghazali, in his Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences), stated that religion is established through the sultan, who is not to be belittled.

We should not justify a wrongdoing when it is proven, but our limited senses may often lead us to believe that no good may come out of the things we perceive as evil because we think evil is the absence of good.

While weed follows the cultivation of rice and there seems to be no good in growing weed, it does not stop us from planting and harvesting the rice.

A well-known Sufi figure, Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad, said, “If I had one supplication that was going to be answered, I would make it for the sultan, for the sultan’s well-being and righteousness means well-being for the land and its people.”

Another Sufi figure, Sahl al-Tustari, was once asked, “Who is the best among men?” He replied that it was the ruler, which surprised his inquirers because it was thought that rulers were the worst.

Sahl continued, “Don’t be hasty! God Most High has two glances every day: one is for the safety of the Muslims’ possessions and another for their bodies. Then, God looks into the Register of Deeds and forgives him all his sins (for his protection of both).”

But the precondition for forgiveness is that the ruler must protect both.The establishment and statecraft of our centuries-old Malay sultanates mirrored those in Islam’s civilisational epicentre, which in turn were modelled after the Prophet’s Medina.

While colonial rule modernised our country’s administration, it did not abolish the sultanates but merely interrupted them. However, colonisation also displaced the ulama’s traditional role in advising the Rulers.

It also severely impaired the ability to follow the Prophetic practice called shura in consulting scholars and learned men as well as the ability to recognise and acknowledge them properly. This is the reason for today’s greater need for checks and balances.

Even so, we are lucky to be blessed with a unique system that combines constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. This is the time when rulers work closely with the ruled towards the common good.

While our Rulers do not interfere in politics, adherence to royal protocols should not conceal the fact that the Rulers are in the best position to decree the people so that they would choose the best stewards for the nation.

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UMNO is full of learned members –the dedaks led by Big Momma

The counsel of learned people is important in guiding a ruler’s politics because statecraft is like a knife in the kitchen – a housewife could wield the knife as a utensil or a burglar as a weapon.

Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin is senior research officer at Ikim’s Centre for Science and Environ­ment Studies. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Malaysian Government caught Pol Pot’s habit of banning books and persecuting writers and public intellectuals


December 31, 2017

Malaysian Government caught Pol  Pot’s habit of banning books and persecuting writers and public intellectuals

by FMT Reporters

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Zaid Ibrahim's Book on Islamisation

 

Former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim says his book “Assalamualaikum: Observations on the Islamisation of Malaysia”, which was launched in October 2015, has now been banned by the government.

The former minister took to Twitter to make public the decision which comes under the jurisdiction of the Home Ministry.

“So the year didn’t end that well, My book ‘Assalamualaikum’ is now banned. Looks to me this govt prefer Muslims to burn effigies of political opponent(s), destroy beer bottles than reading books,” he tweeted earlier today.

In the book, Zaid shares his thoughts on a new and fresh conversation about the role of Islam in Malaysian politics and in public life.

A check with a local bookstore website indicates that the book, which was on sale for RM19, is banned.

FMT is still waiting to get confirmation from the Home Ministry on the banning of the book. This is the latest case of book banning related to publications that touch on Islam.

Image result for Farouk Musa and Din MericanDr. Ahmad Farouk Musa and Blogger Din Merican

 

On October 3, the Home Ministry had announced the banning of five books with Islamic content, by Turkish author Mustafa Akyol, and two Malaysians – Ahmad Farouk Musa and Faisal Tehrani.

Image result for Faisal Tehrani.
Prolific Writer Faisal Tehrani

 

In an official government gazette dated September 28, 2017, the Home Ministry said the books were banned as they were likely to be prejudicial to public order as well as to alarm public opinion.

The sole English book banned was “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty”, written by Akyol, and which has been an international best-seller since it was first published in the United States in 2011.

Image result for Akyol's book on Islam without extremes

The Bahasa Malaysia version of the book, “Islam Tanpa Keekstreman: Berhujah Untuk Kebebasan” was also banned. Aside from Akyol, Farouk, Nur Asyhraff Mohd Nor and Shuhaib Ar Rumy Ismail are also credited as authors for the translated work.

Two of Farouk’s own books – Wacana Pemikiran Reformis (Jilid 1) and (Jilid 2) – were also banned.

The publisher of the three books in BM is Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), an Islamic NGO of which Farouk is chairman.

‘More corruption than anytime in history’

Image result for Najib Razak

At the launch of his book in 2015, Zaid had said that Malaysia was deeply divided along racial, religious and class more than ever before.

“We have more corruption than at anytime in our history. Greed has become a way of life. Democracy and Rule of Law have been pushed aside.”

“Jakim, proclaiming itself as the protector of Islam, is more involved in big business and overseas travels than in promoting the principles of the religion,” he had said, referring to the Malaysian Islamic religion development department by its acronym.

“These are the complete antithesis of an Islamic government. Islam is a pristine, pure and a simple religion. It’s a religion of peace, promoting honour and integrity.”

Saying then that he was hoping for the book to be a conversation starter, Zaid said: “If the idea of Islamisation was to promote Malaysia as the country that exemplifies the virtues of the religion, then we have failed.”

NY Times Book Review: What The Qur’an Meant And Why It Matters by Garry Wills


December 22, 2017

by Lesley Hazleton

What The Qur’an Meant And Why It Matters–Garry Wills

I know many well-intentioned people who’ve begun reading the Quran and given up within a few pages. The historian Thomas Carlyle considered Muhammad one of history’s heroic greats, yet called the Quran “as toilsome reading as I ever undertook. A wearisome confused jumble.”

It’s hard not to sympathize. Over the years, I’d picked up various translations, started reading, and rapidly found myself very much an agnostic Jew lost in a Muslim landscape. Good intentions, it seemed, were not enough. The Quran may look like a short book, but it’s not one you can curl up with on a rainy Sunday afternoon and read cover to cover.

I finally read it properly — as properly as I could, that is, using several different translations alongside the original Arabic — as part of my research for a biography of Muhammad. And that’s when I realized that the fact that so few people actually read the Quran is precisely why it’s so easy to quote. Or rather, misquote. In what I call the highlighter version, phrases and snippets are taken entirely out of context and even invented out of thin air, like the 72 virgins in paradise (I kept waiting for them, but they never appeared). This is the version favored by both Islamophobes and their partners in distortion, Muslim extremists — partners in bigotry and its correlate, ignorance.

Image result for Catholic Writer Garry Wills

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills has spent his career taking a close look at the Roman Catholic Church. But for all that thinking about religion, he had never read the Qur’an until recently. What he learned about Islam is the subject of his new book, “What the Qur’an Meant: And Why It Matters.  Wills says it’s important not to mistake Islamic terrorism for Islam itself. ISIS and other jihadist groups, he explains, are not indicative of the true nature of Islam. He debunks a number of misconceptions by discussing what the Qur’an actually has to say about holy wars and Sharia Law.

So what happens when a leading Catholic intellectual reads the Quran, especially one as attuned to language as Garry Wills? The answer, as unlikely as it may seem at first glance, is a delight. Which makes it a shame that his book is ill-served by its title.

Wills is hardly so presumptuous as to try to explain what the Quran means — or “meant,” that past tense evidently the heavy hand of the marketing department trying to link to previous Wills books on what Jesus, the Gospels and Paul all meant. Even the cover design is similar. And the subtitle (again I suspect a marketing decision, going for the obvious) refers to what prompted Wills to read the Quran. In his case, it was politics. He blasts away at the multiple varieties of religious and secular ignorance that led to the invasion of Iraq and thus to one of America’s longest foreign wars. He also includes a third kind of ignorance — the “fearful ignorance” displayed in “anti-Muslim animus,” too often reminiscent of the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War.

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 WHAT THE QUR’AN MEANT
And Why It Matters
By Garry Wills
226 pp. Viking. $25.

Once he gets to the Quran itself, however, Wills shines. With the same sensitive eye deployed in his Pulitzer-winning “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” he approaches the text in the spirit of exploration, bringing fresh perspective even for those who imagine they already know it well.

The Quran is “haunted” by the desert, he writes. “Nowhere else do you get a greater feel for the benignity of rain — or of water in any form.” Where heaven is “an urban ideal” in the Bible (the heavenly Jerusalem), in the Quran it’s “the oasis of oases, rinsed with sweet waters, with rivers running on it and under it, and with springs opening unbidden.” And in a lovely coda to that observation, he adds: “When I was growing up in the 1940s, a song was everywhere on the radio, ‘Cool Water’ sung by Vaughn Monroe. As I read the Quran, it keeps coming back to me, unbidden.”

Wills calls this book “a conversation — or the opening of one,” so there’s a particular joy when he discovers that “all things talk in the Quran. It is abuzz with conversation. For Allah, the real meaning of creating is communicating. The Quran is an exercise in semiotics. God speaks a special language, in which mountains and words and springs are the syllables. Everything is a sign.”

Where Wills’s Catholicism might have limited how he reads the Quran, on the contrary, he brings it to bear in interesting ways. I can’t think of anyone else who could place quotes from St. Augustine and the Quran side by side, enjoying both the unlikeliness and the aptness of the juxtaposition. Or revel in both the similarities and the disparities between the biblical and the Quranic versions of the stories of Moses, Abraham and Jesus (all three of whom, along with many other figures from the Bible, are revered prophets in the Quran).

As you might expect, Wills is deeply alive to context. In his discussion of jihad, for instance, he compares the word to “crusade,” which has long been a “time-bomb word” in the Middle East. Where the idea of a crusade may have “a rosy glow in Western minds … it is stained a dirty blood-red in the Arabic world.”

In fact, he points out, jihad does not mean “holy war.” It means “striving” — as in striving to lead a moral life. The main point of the Quran’s discussion of violence is to establish limitations on its use, and to “abstain from violence to the degree that that is possible.” While a few endlessly cited verses have to do with violence, “the overall tenor is one of mercy and forgiveness, which are evoked everywhere, almost obsessively.” This is what is striven for in the Quran, not war.

As for Shariah, Wills notes that the word appears only once in the Quran, and it does not mean “law,” but “path,” as in Allah’s reassurance to Muhammad that he is “on the right path.” Moreover, there is no single body of Shariah law. The “vague and sketchy elements of law in the Quran” were fleshed out “over a long and contentious history,” and in multiple branches, in much the same way as the many bodies of Christian law. So while “some seem to think that the fanatical punishments dealt out by the self-proclaimed Islamic State … are the essence of Shariah law … the vast majority of Muslims, and their most learned teachers, do not recognize these as bearing any relation to the Quran.”

Wills falters only in three brief chapters on women in the Quran, which come right at the end of his book. (Back of the bus, anyone?) A sense of discomfort and hesitation creeps in here, and both are justified. True, it might come as a surprise that while the Quran advocates modesty for both women and men, it never even mentions veils, let alone mandates them. And its take on polygamy is basically an accommodation to pre-Islamic practice — a stance of (in my words) “O.K. if you insist, but better if you don’t.” The “you,” of course, being male. As Wills notes, “Torah, Gospel, and Quran are all patriarchal and therefore misogynist — as were the societies in which they took shape. But misogynism is not all that all of them are. In all three of them there are traces of dignity and worth intended by the Creator when he made women.” The problem being that “traces” by definition don’t leave much of an impression.

Over all, however, Wills has written perhaps the best introduction to the Quran that I know of: elegant, insightful, even at times joyful. He may not be able to make reading the Quran an easy pleasure, but his encounter with it is a pleasure to read for anyone as open to discovery as he is.

The Hellish War in Yemen–Is Malaysia Complicit?


December 20, 2017

The Hellish War in Yemen–Is Malaysia Complicit?

By  Dennis Ignatius

Image result for Yemen A Hellish War

There’s a war – a murderous, savage, barbaric, hellish war – raging in Yemen. Images of the suffering and carnage there crop up in our newspapers and on television from time to time but it’s been going on for so long that we are becoming inured to it.

It began as a domestic power struggle and quickly spiralled into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the latest sideshow in their ongoing struggle for power and influence in the Middle East. And, as usual, taking advantage of the instability and chaos, terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda have moved in, further complicating the situation.

To snuff out Iranian influence, the Saudi-led coalition has launched a relentless and merciless bombing campaign against Yemen, hitting not just military targets but infrastructure, hospitals, schools and residential areas. International observers believe war crimes are being committed. A Saudi naval blockade, in the meantime, has made it difficult for food, medical and other assistance to get through.

Carnage and catastrophe

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Already, some 10,000 people have been killed, more than 50,000 wounded. Seven million are on the brink of famine. One hundred and thirty children die every day in Yemen from extreme hunger and disease. Twenty million people (over 70% of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations has warned that we might be witnessing “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades.”

If that is not bad enough, Yemen is also caught in the grip of one of the world’s worst cholera outbreaks with more than 900,000 suspected cases and over 2,190 deaths. Diphtheria and other diseases are stalking the land as well.

I suspect that all these statistics, terrible as they are, hardly capture the reality of life in Yemen today. Whichever way you look at it, Yemen, already one of the poorest, least developed countries in the world, is being slowly but surely annihilated before our very eyes.

And yet, there is so little outrage. 

International complicity

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While Saudi Arabia is the main architect of this savage war against Yemen, many others are complicit as well. The UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal and Sudan are either active participants in the Saudi-led coalition or support the Saudis in other ways.

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US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman enter the State Dining Room of the White House. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The United States, blinded by its implacable hatred of Iran and determined to contain Iranian influence at all costs, has supported the Saudi campaign in Yemen with weapons, logistical support and political cover. France, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany (to name a few) support the Saudis with weapons sales and training.

Western democracies talk much about liberty and justice but side with despots waging a brutal war on an entire nation. Containing Iran apparently justifies mass starvation and crimes against humanity.

Cowardice & hypocrisy

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Islamic nations, for their part, are quick to work themselves into a frenzy when Muslims in distant lands are persecuted but keep silent when Muslims kill Muslims in their own backyard. They are very brave when it comes to confronting countries like Myanmar over the treatment of its Muslim minorities but cowardly when it comes to standing up to one of their own. They rush to Istanbul to protest President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but quietly rely on American support to bomb Yemen’s ancient cities.

If others did to Yemen what the Saudis are doing to it, there would be fiery denunciations and angry demonstrations across the Muslim world instead of silence and indifference.

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OIC Leaders Meet in Istanbul, Turkey to what purpose?

Only Pakistan, to its credit, has refused to go along with this immoral war. Despite their dependence on Saudi aid, they found the courage to say no.

There are, of course, genuine concerns about Iran’s regional ambitions and Arab states have reason to worry about their security but it can never be at the expense of innocent men, women and children, never at the cost of condemning a whole nation to such death and destruction.

Is Malaysia complicit as well? 

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The National Patriot Association (NPA) has revived the issue of Malaysia’s link to the Saudi Arabian-led coalition that is bombing Yemen, questioning the rationale for Malaysia’s participation. In a statement, NPA President Brig Gen (Rtd) Mohamed Arshad Raji said based on a recent report by Qatar-based news broadcaster Al Jazeera, “Malaysia is understood to have sent our military personnel to join the coalition forces”. If the Al Jazeera news report is true, then NPA wants to register its strongest protest against the participation of the armed forces in the Saudi-led coalition forces and the involvement of our military personnel in this Middle-Eastern conflict,” Arshad said.–www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Image result for Malaysian troops in Yemen

Malaysia, too, is apparently complicit in this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. Our defence ministry insists that some military officers have been deployed to the region but only to assist in the evacuation of Malaysian nationals from Yemen. Other reports, however, suggest that Malaysia is, in fact, part of the Saudi coalition and is working alongside personnel from the UAE, France, Britain and the US at Saudi joint headquarters in Riyadh to coordinate the air campaign against Yemen.

Whatever the level of involvement, Malaysia has no business being there; it is an iniquitous and unjust war that goes against everything we stand for in international affairs.

And even if we are not directly involved, our failure to speak out against war crimes being committed in Yemen makes us complicit. We had many opportunities to speak frankly with the Saudis but we are, it seems, too afraid to offend them.

A humanitarian response

It’s time for Malaysia to break with the Saudis, condemn the criminal campaign against Yemen and demand an immediate halt to the bombing. We should also lend our full support to the efforts of the UN Secretary-General to broker a negotiated settlement in Yemen. Most of all, we need to help initiate a major international effort to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.

For a start, let’s take the lead to help save the children of Yemen. Let’s put our heads and hearts together as a nation – government and opposition, Muslim, Christian and others, private and public sector, civil society and NGOs – to structure a national humanitarian assistance mission to help these innocent victims of the war.

Perhaps, the Royal Malaysian Air Force could help medevac seriously injured children and bring them to Malaysia for treatment, with all our hospitals – private and public – chipping in to help. Perhaps groups like Mercy Malaysia and other NGOs can be supported to set up hospitals and provide food and other assistance wherever conditions in Yemen permit. Perhaps we could organize a national fund-raising campaign to help aid groups already in Yemen at great cost to themselves.

To be sure, our ability to influence events in the Middle East is limited but there are many little things that we can do that could make a big difference in Yemen if our hearts are in the right place.

This is a defining moment, our opportunity to make a difference in the world by reaching out to the suffering people of Yemen. Surely to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to help the hurting is to touch the very heart of God. Can a nation which prides itself on its fealty to God do any less?

Dennis Ignatius | 17th December 2017

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