Tuesday, May 30, 2006

On Haditha

We have been quite disturbed by reports of civilian casualties by the hands of US Marines in Haditha, Iraq.

However, to be quite frank, We do not know any of the facts. What happened? Who did what? What were the circumstances? Why did what happen, happen? There is too much speculation floating around for Us to form even the semblance of an opinion on what may have transpired.

But with regard to one aspect We have become quite adamant. We strenuously oppose any attempt to paint these Marines or the Marines in general with a blood-soaked paintbrush before the release of any findings, before the end of any investigation. The United States is an honorable nation and will take those steps they must take for justice, if any is needed. The United States is not like other states that commit atrocities and get away with it.

We refuse to pass judgment at this moment because of many reports already made concerning atrocities by The Armed Forces of The United States, reports which have been proved to be utterly false. Such false reports frankly disgust Us to to end. This of course might backfire for opponents of The Armed Forces: even if atrocities occurred in Haditha, many will be wary of any such allegations because of the many false allegations of the past.

According to Strafor's daily podcast for Tuesday, May 30, 2006, what seems to matter across the globe is perception. Entities have already passed judgment without this issue having been fully investigated yet. They will insist on their version of the truth, regardless what the facts may be or have been. We refuse to play their game. They may perceive what perverse scenarios they wish: We will stick to the facts.

We will not excuse atrocities by The Armed Forces of The United States; but at the same We realize that The Armed Forces deserve to have their perspective heard, that facts must be considered, and that whatever judgment is to be cast, should be cast keeping all the facts and circumstances in mind.

We shall post on this issue once the findings have been released and the information has been digested.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Tribute

According to Yahoo! News:
The nation can best honor the dead by "defeating the terrorists. ... and by laying the foundation for a generation of peace," Bush said.

Quite true indeed.

We pay tribute to the sacred memory of all the brave and selfless men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and protection of The United States, becoming effectively martyrs in the American Cause. We also pay tribute to those men and women who have pledged to defend The United States by fighting and, if necessary, dying for them. We honor past, present, and future defenders of The Republic, true heroes that you all are. The people live in freedom because of your sacrifices, dedication, and vigilance.

May God bless you all, and may we Americans never forget you. Because you gave your all every day of the year, every day is Memorial Day.

Update: Added link.

Friday, May 26, 2006


In Our culture, dogs are considered to be unclean animals. Outside of the fact that in Pakistan dogs are mostly stray rather than pets, dogs are considered to be unclean according to Islamic law. It is said that angels will not enter a home wherein there is a dog. Furthermore, prayers offered in an impure area are invalid; dogs, as a source of impurity, make roomes and homes impure. These are some reasons used to justify not keeping dogs as pets.

Even if dogs are kept as pets, they are outside animals, meaning that they would not be welcome inside the home. Of course, the perception that dogs are unclean no doubt also plays a role in this fact.

Therefore, those of Our culture are, to begin with, not used to having to deal with dogs or cats as pets. In contrast, it seems that most Americans are used to dealing with dogs and/or cats. In addition, those of Our culture do not understant dogs: why do they what they do? how ought one to deal with dogs? what are the expectations in interacting with dogs?

Although these still remain mysteries to Us, We are beginning to understand more about dogs by reading what bloggers have said about their pets. We thank these bloggers for expanding Our understanding. One day, We hope to know how to interact properly and confidently with dogs.

Here are some dogblogging posts:

Dave in Texas
Save This Dog (crossposted on Innocent Bystanders)
The Beagle Controversy
Senor Dumbass (crossposted on Innocent Bystanders)

Innocent Bystanders
They Never Have A Bad Day
Faster Than A Speeding Rig
Photographic Update
Let Me People Go
Great American Superhero
If You Don't Vote, You Can't Complain

More Dogblogging

Mrs. Peel

You Are In Soooo Much Trouble, Mister!
My Buddy (2)
My 4-legged Terror...
My Buddy (1)
Winter Wonderland
My Best Bud Riley

Cake or Death?
Time Flies When You're Scoopin' Poop
Blizzard Pics

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Job Application Blues

Being diabetic (type I, also known as insulin-dependent, diabetes) does not often concern Us. It is only when applying for jobs with The Government that We begin to regret it. Being diabetic limits Our options: for a number of positions it is an automatic disqualifier. For example, We cannot join any branch of The Military. Civilian positions may be open to Us, but they may be because if the position is overseas, We may be disqualified for the same reason We cannot join The Military.

Seen another way (as how Our parents view it): it keeps Us out of dangerous places.

Still. We'd rather have the option.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Some Insight Into Anti-War Protestors

This post by tgslTakoma is a very interesting one. We have often heard of protests by anti-war activists. We have even heard of counter-protests. But this post informs the reader of a number of very interesting points:
  • the objectives of anti-war protestors
  • how counter-protesters cooperate with law enforcement officials
  • the mannerisms and behavior of anti-war protesters (including some hypocrisy, what with their use of force every now and then)
  • the attempts of anti-war protestors to get arrested (by any means it seems)
  • the media's interest in anti-war protestors, which is more than their interest in counter-protestors
  • the civility and utter restraint of law enforcement officials
  • the fact that anti-war protestors are only interested in broadcasting their perspective without engaging in any dialogue or discussion with those who may disagree
We encourage Our readers to visit and read through the post. Be aware that this is not a short post. The post includes a video as well as a number of pictures; it is a very informative and insightful indeed, for which We thank tgslTakoma.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Three Sources of Information You Should Know About

There are a few sources of information by way of podcast that We would recommend to everyone. Some of them are daily; one of them is weekly.

First: The podcast of The President's weekly radio address. We listen to this every Monday. Most of the time what The President has to say is good, insightful, and helpful.

Second: Daily podcasts from The Pentagon Channel. They provide news on the military's various activities within The United States and outside of them. They also provide perspective and, every now and then, good news on their activities. The three that We download regularly, accompanied by a description from The Pentagon Channel's website (from their podcasts page), are:

1. American Forces Press Services audio podcast: "Daily Update from the American Forces Press Service."

2. ATS (Around the Services) In Brief audio podcast: "From the Pentagon Channel NewsCenter - A 5-minute version of Around The Services reduced in size for headline updates."

3. Rucksacks and Rations: "A weekly audio program from the Pentagon Channel featuring stories and interviews about our service members stationed around the globe. From Afghanistan and Iraq to hometowns throughout the United States, Rucksacks and Rations brings you closer to troops downrange and families at home."

Third: The Stratfor daily podcast by Stratfor. Stratfor deals with geopolitics, security, and public policy (according to their homepage). According to Strafor's website's podcast page, the podcasts are:
Audio Intelligence Briefs to Keep You Informed, Prepared, Ahead of the Game

Designed for the decision-maker on the go, each daily podcast will review the most significant events around the world, helping you to:

  • Make sense of world events and understand their implications
  • Get beyond the noise of regular media coverage with timely intelligence and focused analysis on the issues of real geopolitical, economic or security relevance
  • Save time and keep ahead of the headlines - and your competition

These are three very useful resources of information. At the very least they provide alternative perspectives to what one may be reading in the media, especially considering The Media is not so fond of printing what The Government actually says, relying instead on interpreting what The Government has said.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Mahmoud Abbas The Hero? Not So Fast

According to this news article by Yahoo! News and this news article by The Jerusalem Post, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to submit to the Palestinian people a referendum unless Hamas and al-Fath come to some sort of agreement. Obviously, Abbas is putting pressure on Hamas to compromise as al-Fath are loyal to him and his party. The referendum he threatens to put before the Palestinian people concerns the parameters of a future Palestinian state. As innocuous as this seems, one must remember that according to Hamas there is no need to carve out a Palestinian state. The Palestinian state will come into being once The State of Israel ceases to exist. That is, whereas the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which is secular) will agree to establishing borders between The State of Israel and a Palestinian state, which effectively recognizes Israel as a state, Hamas (which is religious/theocratic) does not want two states (Israel and Palestine) but rather one state (Palestine). The referendum is one which various Palestinian leaders have hammered out.

Which may seem like a very nice thing until one examines what exactly the referendum may entail. According to The Jerusalem Post, this referendum may include some of the following points (the whole page is posted here in case the one on The Jerusalem Post's website becomes unavailable):
The document, negotiated earlier this month by senior Palestinian prisoners held by Israel has 18 points:

1. Establishment of a Palestinian state, return of refugees to their homes.

2. Incorporate Hamas and Islamic Jihad into PLO.

3. Resist Israeli occupation of lands captured in 1967 (West Bank and Gaza).

4. Formulate political plan including Arab summit resolutions, PLO platform and fair international proposals.

5. Consolidate the Palestinian Authority as the core of the state.

6. Set up a national unity government for all factions, especially Fatah and Hamas.

7. PLO and President Mahmoud Abbas would be in charge of peace negotiations.

8. Freedom for all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

9. Aid for refugees.

10. Set up united movement for resistance against Israeli occupation with political backing.

11. Maintain democratic elections and politics.

12. Condemn Israeli and US siege on Palestinian people.

13. Promote national unity by backing the Palestinian Authority, president, PLO and government.

14. Ban on use of weapons in internal conflicts and renouncing divisions and (internal) violence.

15. Improve participation of people of Gaza in freedom and independence.

16. Reform and develop the security forces.

17. Pass laws to reorganize the security forces and ban security officers from political activity.

18. Boost efforts of international solidarity groups in struggles against Israeli occupation, settlements and security barrier.

In short, this is to ask Palestinians to approve the Arabs' demands. There is nothing new. What is new is that this will establish a principle of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than trying to establish a one-state solution. What with references to resistance, this also seems to indicate a continuation of the intifaaDah: it all depends on what they mean by "resistance" and "struggle." The inclusion of The United States along with Israel as those sieging the Palestinians is puzzling but reflects the conspiracism of Arabs. What is also striking is that this documents seem to promote a united and concerted diplomatic and international public relations campaign.

Two points also stand out: the Palestinians' right of return and the borders-to-be. What will matter is what exactly is meant by Palestinians returning to their home. Does this refer to the West Bank or to Israel proper as well? What exactly does "return to their homes" mean? There is nothing new here concerning the borders of the Palestinian territory: withdrawal to pre-1967 borders (that is, before the Six Day War; that is, withdrawing from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which would include Jerusalem).

How will Israel take this referendum, which people say will pass? The Israeli authorities would not be pleased. It would be, in fact, a step back in the peace process. Rather than accomodating with Israel, the palestinians are effectively backtracking to their original demands and demanding that they be met. They are, to use a phrase now in currency, moving the goalposts. Whereas before there was a chance for accomodation or agreement, this referendum essentially ends all chances for a successful bilateral solution.

Israel, however, has gone beyond depending on the Palestinians. After the success of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Israeli authorities are now set to draw their own borders and consolidate its territory. The Palestinians, for better or for worse, are not given any choice in the matter: they will be faced with a fait accompli. This referndum would validate the Israeli authorities' policy: whereas the Israeli authorities are moving to a solution, the Palestinians are moving back into a position from which it would be virtually impossible for there to be a bilateral solution. This referendum ties down the Palestinian Authority's hands. How much can they compromise when the Palestinians have unequivocally said what they want? Would Palestinians accept any deviation therefrom? If they do not, how will they express their rejection of any compromise made by the Palestinian Authority?

It is difficult to determine which is the better of the two evils: Hamas, which openly declares it will not negotiate or recognize Israel as a state, or the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which says it will negotiate but with ridiculous and impractical demands.

One must be very cautious about this supposedly brave venture by Mahmoud Abbas to dampen (or rein in) Hamas and establish parameters for a solution with Israel.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wiccans and Neo-Pagans and Satanists, Oh My!

The problem with the word "Satanic" is that it has so many meanings and connotations. Whereas there have been some who have been swept up by the impression of serving the Evil One/Ones, Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, et cetera, and accordingly committing heinous crimes ("the Devil made me do it," see also Faust and his pact with Mephistopheles), Satanism as an organized expression of spirituality/religion/whatever is somewhat different and spans various movements, from The Order of the Nine Angels (deeply secret, condoning human sacrifice) to The Temple of Set (where Set, previously the Ancient Egyptian devil-figure, is considered to be the one who helps humans "become" (kheper) or to come into their own) to some people in The Church of Satan (where "Satan" is a symbol rather than a being) - most being antinomian and proud of it. Some of them, such as The Church of Satan, establish themselves consciously as a foil to Christianity and Judaism. Others do not.

Those that do not are usually part of the so-called "left-hand path" of Western occultism. The difference between the "left-hand path" (abbreviated as "LHP") and the "right-hand path" (abbreviated as "RHP") is that the RHP believes in a person submitting to a higher power/to higher powers and curtailing one's activities whereas the LHP believes in following only one's own will. One may say that Aleister Crowley summed up the LHP with his oft-quoted quote: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" (The Book of the Law (also known as Liber AL and Liber AL vel Legis) I:40). LHP organizations are not all pagan (polytheistic) but most are part of occultism or esotericism.

The Temple of Set may even be said to be monotheistic or monolatrous with their focus being on Set. In this case, Set is not a symbol or a tool to be used: Set is believed to be an actual divine being who leads and guides the organization through a priesthood he has assembled. It may be called "Satanic" in that Set is the devil-figure of Ancient Egyptian polytheism (although Setians, as members of the Temple of Set may be called, believe this to have been an aberration) and that it is a LHP organization, which, in its elevation of humanity as divine or potentially divine and because of its antinomian character, can be considered Satanic or anti-God.

In order to give these movements a clear name with which they can be identified without confusing them with other varieties of Satanic movements, the term "Luciferian" is in common use among those who discuss or belong to this movement. This term comes from the name "Lucifer," which means "the bringer of light." Amongst many Christians (and those who believe in demons and other supernatural evil beings), "Lucifer" is a name associated with Satan. Some believe it is another name of Satan; others believe it refers to a separate infernal being. Some may see him as Muslims view Iblees: an angel who was cast out from heaven for disobeying God; once upon a time, a good guy; not, a bad guy. Luciferians claim that Lucifer, who has been misunderstood or falsely maligned by Christians, brings the light of enlightenment and self-fulfillment and progress and coming into one's own or fulfilling one's potential/destiny, which can be accomplished by discovering, developing, and furthering one's self or one's will. For some, they did not choose Lucifer specifically because he is viewed as a fallen angel by Christians, but it certainly is a happy coincidence for them. In the sense that Luciferians reject God's supremacy and focus, instead, on their own deification, and that they honor (as a deity or as a symbol) a figure regularly considered to be a demon or Satan himself, one can call Luciferians "Satanic," although some Luciferians will vociferously contest that label, seeing Satanism (in its more sensationalistic forms) as nothing but juvenile attempts to play with the occult, get a reaction from a shocked society, and indulge in petty lusts. (Many in The Temple of Set, for example, have a very low opinion of the organization and members of The Church of Satan and its various off-shoots.)

In the above cases, "Satanic" deals with the organization's beliefs about and involvement with Satan or other entities considered to be evil.

(Tangent: By this definition, is The Church of Satan a Satanic organization? Despite the name, one can argue that The Church of Satan is, in fact, not Satanic. According to some in The Church of Satan, "Satan" is but a symbol of one's desires and will. Their rites are a conscious mockery of Christianity. As such, because they do not believe in Satan but obviously believe in God (why would they try to mock God if they believed He did not exist?) and are Christians (why desecrate and mock Christian objects and Christianity if they do not believe Christianity to be true?), The Church of Satan is a heretical church of blatantly rebellious and offensive whiny Christians. Except unlike most heretics, who do not mean to be heretics, they mean to be heretics.)

Where does this leave Wiccans, neo-pagans, and other RHP-ers? Are they Satanic?

Here one enters into a very heated debated. Among some Christians, anything that rejects God's supremacy is Satanic. Similarly, anything that opposes God (personally or one of His institutions) is Satanic. The word "Satanic" has been used to characterize everything from those who are not of one's specific congregation or denomination to all those who do not belong to one's religion to all occultists to only those who somehow use an infernal being. Thus, some Christians will say all but Baptists/Methodists/Pentecostals/Episcopalians are Satanic. Or all but Christians are Satanic. Or witches and diviners and astrologers and palm-readers and members of Western Mysticism are Satanic. Or that members of The Church of Satan are Satanic.

In other words, anything "false" can be labelled as "Satanic" (in that it is considered to be involved with or from or guided by or serving Satan), and what matters is how lenient one may be with categorizing what is false and what is not completely true. If Seventh-day Adventists are simply wrong, some will label them as "Satanic." (As, in fact, some have done.) If Seventh-day Adventists have some things right but in other things are misguided, one can either be lenient and not label them as "Satanic" or one can consider this misguidedness as a sign of Satanism and label them, their truthiness notwithstanding, as "Satanic."

As such, depending on how one defines "Satanic," Wicca and other neo-pagan movements may or may not be Satanic.

From the perspective of various Christians organizations, neo-paganism and witchcraft are Satanic. They reject God. They reject Christianity/Judaism. They reject monotheism. As some see it, they go so far as to actively vilify/persecute/work against God and Christianity/Judaism and monotheism. (That there is an amount of ill will directed towards Christians and more traditional Jews cannot be denied, but these elements are part of the sociology of neo-paganism, not part of its theology or even religion. Furthermore, this is in no way universal.)

On the other hand, from the perspective of "Satanic" referring to LHP organizations or those that consciously deal with what they and others consider to be evil, they cannot be considered to be Satanic because they do not believe or deal with Satan (or any other evil demons) nor are they antinomian. There are rules, ethics, doctrines, standards, and morals among neo-pagans and their organizations. (Indeed, like other denominations of mainstream religions, various neo-pagan people and organizations become involved in very heated and acerbic debates, conflicts, and/or confrontations over these issues.) To label neo-pagans as "Satanic" because of a paradigm neo-pagans do not believe in would be unfair. To which some might respond: "Exactly. They do not accept our paradigm as true, so they are wrong, and hence they are Satanic."

So the debate basically boils down to two points:
1. In labelling neo-pagans, whose perspective should be considered: the perspective of those who are not neo-pagans or of those who are?

2. What does "Satanic" mean? Does it mean "unwittingly or knowingly dealing with or guided by or serving Satan" or "consciously dealing with Satan, believing like the rest that he is evil"?

You decide.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Reading From The Torah: What It Entails

Many people believe "Bar Mitzvah" and "Bat Mitzvah" refers to a celebration when a Jewish boy or girl, respectively, comes of age. "Bar mitzvah" means, literally, "son of the commandment," meaning the boy is now under the yoke of the mitzvot (commandments) of Judaism. "Bat mitzvah" means "daughter of the commandment." This refers to the belief that on a boy's thirteenth birthday and on a girl's twelfth birthday, the child is considered an adult under Jewish law and, consequently, subject to its laws and commandments. This event is emphasized by giving the child the honor of reading from the Torah on the Sabbath after the child's relevant birthday. Whether the child reads from the Torah or not, whether there is a party or not, the child becomes a bar/bat mitzvah on the child's relevant birthday.

One may wonder what the child recites, how it is determined. Almost every Sabbath has a parshah (portion of the Torah) assigned to it. Among Orthodox this is divided such that the whole Torah will be read each year. As the honor of reciting the Torah for a bar/bat mitzvah is given on the first Sabbath after the child's relevant birthday, it is easy to determine ahead of time what the child's parshah will be. The child does not have to concern himself/herself with the whole parshah. The parshah is divided into seven portions. The child will be given one of them.

So, the child reads one-seventh of a parshah of the Torah from a nice scroll. How hard can it be?

Actually, reading Hebrew is not so easy. Like Arabic, Hebrew is written only with consonants. Vowels are indicated by dots and dashes (niqqud) around the letter, also like Arabic. Also important are other diacritics such as the shva (which indicates a consonant is without a vowel or followed by what is called a schwa vowel (like the "a" in "about")) and dagesh (a dot in the middle of certain letters which changes its pronunciation; an example is the letter "bet": with the dagesh it is pronounced as "b," without the dagesh it is pronounced as "v"). Also problematic is figuring out whether the qamatz (a vowel mark) is qamatz gadol (in which case it would be pronounced as "a") or qamatz qatan (in which case it would be pronounced as "o") - there is no differentiation in the text. Not to mention paying attention to the colon-like period. So much to pay attention to!

On top of this, Hebrew of the Hebrew Bible have other essential marks known as tropes, cantillation marks, or ta'amim. These are necessary for syntax and grammar. While reading, these are used to determine each word's melody. There are about 23 separate tropes. One may say that when reading the Torah, the punctuation is sung. Each word has a troope. So the child has to learn the tropes.

In addition to this - yes, there is even more! - ever so often a word in the Torah is pronounced not the way it is written. That is, the recited word (qere) is different from the written word (ketiv).

The portion the child has to read is not all that short. Not just a few words or phrases or sentences. It's more like a paragraph.

But this is not all. Get ready for the clincher.

The Torah scrolls, from which the child has to read, are "unpointed." Meaning, on the scroll there are no niqqud, no dagesh, no tropes, no punctuation, no markings whatsoever. It is word followed by word - only consonants. What does this mean? This means that the child has to practically memorize all the vowels, tropes, punctuation, and other added material. And, if there are any qere-ketiv discrepancies, the child has to remember where exactly it is. The Torah scroll has only the ketiv with no indication of what the qere may be.

Considering this, the child certainly deserves the huge bash thrown in his/her honor.

Reading the Qur'an is extremely simple and easy compared to this. The Qur'an has its vowels and points and punctuation marks right there. There are no tropes or other cantillation marks or rules. Reading the Qur'an is practically mechanical: there is the consonant, determine the vowel according to the vowel-marking, consider some of the easy and universal rules concerning Arabic pronunciation, and then recite. Easy. Reciting the Torah, on the other hand, seems like a job for experts. Which it is. On ordinary Sabbaths, usually an expert on Torah reciting will recite the parshah for the Sabbath. Before the Sabbath, the expert (usually called a ba'al qeriah or ba'al qorei) will consult and familiarize himself using a book called a tikkun. It has the pointed text on one side, and the unpointed text (as found on the scrolls) on the other, side by side. There is probably no one who can turn to any random parshah and recite it without prior preparation.

Anyway, just to add some perspective. To all who have recited from the Torah, yasher koach! May you have strength! (This is the traditional greeting said to a bar/bat mitzvah after he/she has read from the Torah.)

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Regarding Reports That Iran Will Force Religious Minorities To Distinguish Themselves By Clothing

As some may have come to know, a news report was being circulated that stated that majles-e shooraa-ye eslaami (literally, the "Islamic Consultative Assembly," also known as the Majles or Parliament of Iran) passed a law requiring Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians to wear distinctive badges.

We must emphasize that this story is not entirely true. It is true that the Irani Majles passed legislation concerning clothing standards: this law does not contain any provision to distinguish religious minorities. However, during the debate on this legislation such distinguishing provisions were discussed. This is not to say that legislation enacting these provisions cannot be passed later on, so the situation is not all that rosy yet. To say that the Irani Majles did not pass legislation to distinguish minorities would be technically correct, but this would ignore the reality that such legislation may, in fact, be passed.

We must also emphasize that from what it seems, this was not some orchestrated or organized propaganda campaign by neo-conservatives. It seems that Irani exiles mistook the debate as actually amending the legislation, which had not happened. Yet.

In any case, that such debates took place by the Irani Majles ought to be of concern.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Bush Is A RINO. He's Not Racist Enough.

There are some who charge that Republicans are all racist. It would then be no surprise that it is charged that Republican administrations are also racist. If so, perhaps Bush has been afflicted with color-blindness. There are too many minorities in his previous and current administrations for him to be found honoring The Republican Party's racist platform. Perhaps this means he's a RINO?

We feel We would be able to operate far better in The Republican Party, which does not really care all that much about a person's race, than in The Democrat(ic) Party, which does pay attention to race and expects its minorities to tow the Party's identity politics line. We refuse to engage in identity politics or tow any such line.

And We feel that people of any ethnicity would have it better in The Republican Party for the same reasons. The vilification of minority politicians who reject The Democrat(ic) Party's stand on these issues demonstrates how irrationally chained Democrats are to such ideologies that keep people behind and enabled.

In order to empower minorities, one must disregard the fact that someone is part of a minority: de-emphasize a person's minority status rather than elevating it.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Comedy with a Spine: Carlos Mencia

Carlos Mencia tells his audience how he took on a disgruntled Middle Easterner.

Some foul language. Very, very amusing indeed.

From this post on My Pet Jawa, mentioned in this post by Pure Gum Spirits.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Monday, May 15, 2006

What's Good for Pakistanis Is Good for Latinos

We are reposting this from where We originally posted it on Vince aut Morire.

I found the recent “immigration” protests to be quite annoying for a variety of reasons.

People may or may not be aware but right after 9/11, the Government began cracking down on Arabs and South Asians. Those here illegally were deported, which means that many people were deported. Back in their countries of origin, they blamed American racism and anti-Muslim bias. I remember being in Pakistan and having to defend America. People said that Americans became very racist, and I told them that that was not true. No one ever said anything negative to me nor even looked at me weird - and this while I was going to college in a predominantly white and Jewish area. They said Muslims and/or South Asians were being deported for no reason, but I pointed out that they were simply cracking down on people here illegally. It wasn’t out of racism or anti-Muslim bias: the Government wanted to enforce its laws. One of my brother’s good friends left the US and could not come back because he forgot to fill out a certain form before leaving. He had to go to Canada. He’s back in the US now, a number of years later. So people who made innocent mistakes were dealt with without mercy. A cousin of mine did not have a valid visa, so he fled the US to Canada, claiming asylum. As such, he could not enter the US again, even to visit his sister and nephews and other relatives.

Where were the Latinos to protest these actions? There were no emotional and irrational marches by South Asians.

For the record, I wholeheartedly agreed with the Government’s actions. Before 9/11, our people commonly joked how Pakistanis would go to visit the US and never go back. Everyone knew about it; everyone accepted it. This all changed suddenly after 9/11.

So when people make such a big hue and cry that Latinos are being treated harshly, I have no sympathy. They are given preferrential treatment. Unlike what happened to my cousin and my brother’s good friend, the Government is not enforcing its laws against the Latinos.

If there is any racism, it’s on the part of the Latinos. Have you seen some of their signs and slogans? Abominable.

This is not their land. This is our land. This is the land of Pakistanis, Indians, Germans, Irish, French, English, Polish, Russians, Italians, Swedes, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Filipinos, Arabs, Africans, and so on and so forth. This is the land of legal immigrants. My parents immigrated here legally. I was born here legally after they became US citizens. My family have been good US citizens. These illegal aliens are an embarrassment and an affront to all good citizens. I was actually very offended to see their signs and slogans claiming the US as theirs. This is absolutely ridiculous. I, frankly, have no sympathy for such idiots or such racists. (Notice how sensitive minorities accuse people of racism, but no one calls the minorities on their racism? Ridiculous.)

They have no right to be here or to be given amnesty. We have done more than we should by tolerating them so far. The US is the only country in the world where anyone from any country can come and become an American. Israel comes close, but their immigration policy is usually applied to Jews. Nonetheless, their policy is remarkable in itself because of how different it is compared to other states. Why should Latinos then demand for us to grant them a right they do not have? No state is obligated to give citizenship or permit entry to everyone or, indeed, anyone.

One mark of a sovereign state is its ability to control its borders. An example: Azad Kashmir (to the north of Pakistan, and to the west of Jammu and Kashmir which is disputed between India and Pakistan) is proclaimed by Pakistan to be a sovereign state, but Azad Kashmir does not control its borders or its policies. Pakistan controls them. Thus, Azad Kashmir is not sovereign. (Which is funny, considering “Azad Kashmir” means “Liberated Kashmir.”) It is ever state’s right to control its borders. Why should the US be any exception?

We need to secure our borders, no matter what Mexico and its citizens who are illegally here may say. (By the way, Mexicans in the US constitute a significant amount of the money going into Mexico, which is why Mexico supports the illegal aliens.) This is a matter of national security and national sovereignty.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

On Animals Being Slaughtered

Warning: The following post contains elements that may not be suitable for people with weak stomachs. We assume no responsibility for any appetites lost or meat set aside hereafter. Read at your own risk. This is not a campaign by PETA. Or, it may be if PETA means "People for the Edible Treatment of Animals." Indeed, despite all the below, We love meat a lot (particularly Porterhouse steaks, medium well, thankyouverymuch). And we suggest all to try goat-meat particularly if prepared in a South Asian manner. Very delectable.

We are used to the image of animals being "sacrificed." (Among Muslims, one may not say an animal slaughtered for consumption is anything but sacrificed. This emphasizes that the act of taking the animal's life is permitted and done according to the rules revealed, as they say, by God. To say an animal is "slaughtered" is considered very bad form.)

We would see this every year at least at 'eed al-aDHaa when every family is supposed to sacrifice an animal. This would usually be a goat. Wealthier families would sacrifice a cow. Very wealthy (or ostentatious) people would sacrifice a camel (which is quite difficult and inhumane indeed: the camel is slaughtered by throwing knives at its neck until it is hit and it falls down; then the camel is tied up and its throat slit - this is from what We have heard, We have never seen it personally; the occasion of slaughtering a camel becomes a community spectacle). As a child, watching the animal being tied up, slaughtered, opened up, gutted, skinned, meat and edibles divided and bagged - it was all a curious and exciting spectacle. Often We would see meat all the way from the living animal to becoming a dish before Us that same day. Although this may turn many people off of meat, We, and other boys, took it in stride. Usually boys were far more interested in watching the sacrifice and subsequent procedures; women and girls stayed inside the home. If kids were upset, it was at the loss of a pet (albeit one they had for only a few days if not weeks). Kids would name the animal, feed it, walk it around, play with it - all under the watchful eye of an adult, of course.

When We did not have school, We would go with Our mother to the Tuesday Bazaar. On an empty field, a huge open-sided tent would be set up. Inside there would be hundreds of stalls: clothes, vegetables, soap, brooms, tapes, CDs, knicknacks, and chicken among many other commodities. After getting everything needed (usually vegetables and fruit), Our mother would go to where the chickens were. They would be at one of the edges of the tent. They were alive and in a coop with a hole on the top. After telling the chicken-man how many chickens she wanted, he would take the first chicken out, hold its neck between the foot's big toe and the second toe, say the modified basmalah, and then with one swift movement sever the head. The skinning, gutting, and other relevant procedures were done very quickly. The meat was put in a plastic bag which would be put in the basket holding the other items bought. (The basket would be held by a boy, a porter of sorts.)

This never fazed Us. At times, when Our mother would go to get goat- or cow-meat and We had no school, We would go with her. Although there would be some goats around the butcher's stall, tethered with strong ropes, the meat obtained would be from already-sacrificed goats whose meat would be hanging from hooks. The butcher would get the type of meat requested and bag it. The sight of a hanging carcass never fazed Us. Indeed, it was intriguing - the red muscles and meat, the white parts (tendons?), the flies, the sound of the knife chopping up meat and through bone. Although, We must admit, the smell was quite unpleasant and even at times nauseating. The smell from the Tuesday Bazaar's chicken area was not as bad: particularly considering it was basically in the open, with the tent for shade, it was quite tolerable. Thankfully, servants would usually get goat- and cow-meat. (In Pakistan, even the poor have servants.)

This is one reason why the depiction of a woman being slaughtered like all those goats and cows and chickens We have seen slaughtered in the past, brings up rage and hatred within Us. A human is a human, not an animal.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Friday, May 12, 2006

United 93: Another Note on Muslim Practice

*sigh* We don't want to post this, but it is perhaps something We should say.

Those who have not watched United 93 are recommended not to read further. Consider the comments below to be spoilers of sorts.

Many of you who have watched United 93 will remember a certain scene, which has been seared at least in Our mind, stuck like an axe in one's back that one cannot extract. This is the scene when the flight stewardess, who was forced to let the terrorists into the cockpit, was executed (slaughtered? massacred? sacrificed? martyred? killed? what word can capture the inhumanity of the terrorists and the innocence of the woman?).

Very gruesome.

What hit Us was what the terrorist said before slicing her throat. "bismi-llaah" ("in the name of Allah"). There is something very unique and different about this. The full formula is "bismi-llaahi-r-raHmaani-r-raHeem" (in the name of Allah, the most merciful, the merciful). This is called the basmalah.

Sidenote: "raHeem" is a regular Arabic adjective that means "merciful." "raHmaan" in a unique word with its own unique definition, a super-superlative of the adjective formed from the root r-H-m (which has the connotation of "mercy"). There is a theory that Muhammad borrowed this word from the Jews. In Hebrew, "ha-rachaman" ("the merciful one") is a very common phrase used for God. Muhammad took the Hebrew phrase and Arabized it, which would not be difficult because Hebrew and Arabic are sister languages, sharing similar patterns, and often sharing the same roots, which applies to this case (raa'-Haa'-meem in Arabic, resh-chet-mim in Hebrew).

Back to the matter at hand: Did the terrorist forget half of the formula? After all, Islam mandates that everything must begin in the name of Allah, which is accomplished by saying the basmalah. No, the omission was deliberate.

We do not know how to say this except by saying it. Anyway, according to Islamic law, when one sacrifices an animal, instead of saying the traditional basmalah, one says a modified version: "bismi-llaah allaahu akbar" ("in the name of Allah[,] Allah is the greatest"). The reasoning is that because the Muslim is taking the life of an animal, invoking God's mercy would not be appropriate. How so very sensitive of them. (We do not remember if the terrorist said "allaahu akbar" while committing his perverted crime. If anyone recalls either way, please let Us know.)

We would posit that in the situation pictured in the movie, the animal is sacrificing the human. A perversion of what God certainly has ordained.

So, he believed he was sacrificing the woman, just like how a Muslim would sacrifice a goat or a cow or a chicken. Sacrifice. What an utter perversion of the concept. We finish this post now before rage overtakes Us.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

O Father in Heaven, Almighty and Holy, I pray Thee to assuage my heart and relieve me of my rage. Open Thy heavens and permit me to see Thy divine and holy love. May my troubled mind be put at ease, and may horror from The Evil One not terrorize me any more. Forgive me my sin of hatred and rage. Bless with Thy mercy, compassion, comfort, and protection all who suffer because of terrorists and terrorism, and may the Age of Peace swiftly come. Before then, Most Just and Loving Father, strengthen our arms so we can fight against evil to protect the innocent and the good. Send Thy hosts before us, and may Thy victory be swift and complete. We are tools in Thy hands: help us to serve Thee. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Taxes on the Dhimmis

One thing We love about comments is questions readers have. As is Our habit, sometimes Our responses are quite lengthy. But ever so often a question is so good, eliciting such a response, that We feel others may be wondering the same. In that case, We will post the question and the answer.

We would also like to say that We will try to respond to every comment, either to thank the commenter or to respond to any comments or questions a commenter may leave. Please forgive Us if We are less than most prompt in this regard.

On to the question!

Tom M asked:
Thabnk you for the post, Muslihoon.
I was wondering if you knew whether the "taxes" that a dimmmi would be required to pay were somewhat equivalent to the (tithe?) zakaah, and how does it get determined?

Thanks, in advance.

Tom M

We responded:
Thanks for your comment/question, Tom M!

What dhimmis paid was called the jizyah. It was a capital tax (meaning that it was paid per head) whose value, it seems, was determined according to the dhimmi's socioeconomic status. The richer dhimmis paid more; the poorer dhimmis paid less. In addition to this was the kharaj, a land tax that initially only dhimmis paid but later which Muslims had to pay as well.

This is not to introduce any equivalence between Muslims and dhimmis. Islamic authorities ensured that dhimmis had to pay at least twice what Muslims had to pay.

zakaah (pronounced as zakaat by non-Arabs) is determined by sharee'ah. One part (zakaatu-l-fitrah) is a capital tax (paid per head) paid usually at the end of ramaDaan. Another part (zakaatu-l-maal) is 2.5% of certain possessions meeting certain conditions.

Shiites pay an additional tax, the khums (one-fifth tax on certain goods meeting certain conditions, divided into two portions, each going to a different group of people).

However, paying the jizyah was usually done in a public ceremony where the dhimmis' inferiority to Muslims was emphasized: the dhimmi would give the tax in a debasing posture, and the tax-collecter would administer two blows to the head or neck. Indeed, such humiliation is commanded by the Qur'an ("until they pay the jizyah from their hand and they are humiliated/made small"). Furthermore, jizyah was collected on the poor, sick, old, and dead.

Wikipedia on: dhimmi, taxation of dhimmi, jizyah, zakaah, khums.

We can get details, and post them even, on zakaah, khums, jizyah, and kharaj if anyone is interested.

Update: Tom M responded with a few comments We thought were quite pertinent:
It is, however quite illuminating to be told what to expect if we lose. Not that anyone who could use the lessons would actually read the posts, but I would find it interesting what other restrictions await us if we don't get this right.

We never saw it that way but it makes sense. Prepare to be struck on the head while kneeling before an arrogant Muslim, if The West does not win this war with militant Islam!

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Under Surveillance

Regarding the whole NSA eavesdropping issue, let Us say a few words (despite the fact that We debate whether We should say anything or not).

We have first-hand experience with being under surveillance. For a number of reasons, which We will not discuss publicly or privately (because We should not), the house which We live in with Our parents and siblings has had its telephone and internet activity under surveillance for some time now. How and what extent, We do not know nor do We care to know. We are cognizant of being monitored, but this has not affected anyone's telephone or internet activity. No one is concerned because no one is doing anything wrong or immoral let alone illegal.

Everyone in the house is okay with being under surveillance. It is no big deal.

Even if the circumstances of the above situation did not exist, We would suppose We would be under surveillance because of Our browing habits. Ever so often, We go to militant Islamic websites to download propaganda to see what they are saying. Of course, such activity ought to raise some alarms and such activity should be monitored. We are not using or disseminating this information at all, let alone in a manner that harms The United States, so We have nothing to fear.

When Leftists (and others, We suppose) then speak up against such eavesdropping programs, We feel quite displeased. These people are not under surveillance and yet they oppose these programs; We are under surveillance and We do not mind at all. Why are they making so much noise and commotion? How can they suppose they can speak for those who are under surveillance? It does not concern these politicians or activists. If any of them are under surveillance, then it's for a good reason. We refuse to accept any arguments that suggest such monitoring activity erodes or violates one's rights, is unnecessary, or is otherwise untenable.

A joke someone told Our father: someone told him that he feels sorry for anyone monitoring the telephone conversation of a Pakistani woman. All they would be able to transcribe would be:
Hello! (salaam walekum; South Asians mispronounce this Arabic greeting)
Yes. (jee)
Really. (achcha)
Okay. (Theek hai)
We'll speak again. (Phir baat ho ga)
Good bye! (khuda hafiz)

Hearing Our mother speak on the phone, he has a very good point indeed.

We feel quite sorry for Government employees who are busy writing down Our mother's recipe for pasande as they transcribe her latest conversation. (To them: please note that she makes her own masala and it's very good indeed, but if you can get Shan's masala it would make cooking the dish much easier. We apologize if she did not mention this in her last discussion.)

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Islamic Legalism

Regarding rights, in Islam there are two categories of rights: the rights of God (huqooqu-llaah) and the rights of the people (huqooqu-l-abaad). The rights of God concern those things which God is owed (mainly obedience to His laws as revealed in Islam, which includes as its foundation faithful adherence to the Five Pillars of Islam). The rights of the people concern those things which people are owed. These rights are mandatory and affect a person's salvation.

There is a debate among Muslims regarding which is superior. This debate, as trivial as it may seem, is substantial and significant for Muslims.

Legalists believe that the rights of God are superior. As such, they believe that on the Day of Judgment people will be asked primarily about their obedience to and fulfillment of these rights and commands; they also believe that a Muslim's judgment will be based on his/her obedience. As such, it is of paramount importance, for example, for a Muslim to pray five times a day. Nothing else should come in the way of this requirement.

But this goes a bit further than simply determining whose rights are superior. If the rights of God are superior, then rules and regulations concerning them are likewise superior and of the utmost importance. Hence, the obsession with what seems to be minutiae: when a prayer's time begins and ends; how to perform wuDuu (ritual washing) if one is wearing socks of cloth or leather; what movements are to be made in prayer; how loud one's voice must be; the validation or invalidation of prayer due to various factors such as breaking wind, soiled clothes, someone walking in front of one's prayer rug while one is praying, the presence of pictures; and so on and so forth. And this is only for praying. The Five Pillars of Islam also include fasting in the Islamic month of ramaDaan, going for Hajj, and paying zakaah (mandatory religious contributions levied on one's gains and property).

Other Muslims believe that the rights of the people are of the utmost importance. Such Muslims would stress building character, social harmony, and uplifting the needy. They would also be more lax on the rules concerning ritual requirements. They believe that on the Day of Judgment a person will be asked primarily about his/her relations with other humans.

Neither side would say that one of the two categories of rights is unimportant or irrelevant. Nevertheless, because of the centrality of what is supposed to be superior, the other is given less attention.

This debate, as mentioned before, is quite significant because it is a matter of salvation. According to legalists, it will not matter how nice and charitable a person has been if he/she has not been faithful in praying and fasting. Likewise, on the other hand, Muslims will say that a person's faithfulness to ritual requirements will not matter if he/she was not a good person to others. The side that wins minds is legalism (particularly when bolstered with quotes from Islam's sources), but the rights of the people wins hearts. Not that the latter helps them any. One of Pakistan's major philanthropists, Abdul Sattar Edhi, a very devout Muslim, has had his life threatened by Islamic militants. (His efforts and success are not surprising: he is from the Memon community, who are well known not only for their wise use of money but also their charity, philanthropy, communalism, and looking out for one another.)

This is significant for those in the West because of the ramification of legalism when taken to its logical conclusion: as long as a person is faithful to ritual requirements and to God's commands, what a person does is irrelevant. All what matters is a person's adherence to ritual requirements. Indeed, some would see terrorism, let alone suicide terrorism, as being part of this adherence to the rights of God. Hence, why such acts are not only important and significant in their mind but also why they are considered to die as martyrs. When Muslims rely on such a dry, formulaic, and ritualistic interpretation of Islam, the results are often quite bloody and inhuman.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Video Amusement

Mother's Day Picture: a YouTube video that should surely melt every mother's heart. Via skinbad of Innocent Bystanders.

This ("The Good Word") is also an amusing video by the same duo.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Book Meme

From Christopher Taylor of Word Around the Net:

Just for fun, a game going around various blogs.
  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open it to page 161.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence along with these instructions.
Don'’t search around and look for the coolest book you can find. Use what's actually next to you, if there's no book nearby, grab the first one you see. If it doesn't have 161 pages... get a real book!

By Melanie Bettinelli's sister via Melanie Bettinelli of The Wine Dark Sea, via Domenico Bettinelli of Bettnet.com, via Gerald Augustinus of The Cafeteria Is Closed, via Christine of Ramblings of a GOP Soccer Mom, via kimsch of Musing Minds, via Lee Donoho of The Wide Awake Cafe, via michele of Reformed Chicks Blabbing, via Christopher Taylor of Word Around the Net. (It was fun to follow the links to the source.)

Our result:
And Ba'-laam rose up, and went and returned to his place; and Balak also went his way.

Numbers 24:25 from the Holy Bible published and placed by The Gideons (specifically, The Gideons International in India, New Delhi Camp).

And this because We were writing about this Gideons Bible We swiped.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ahmadinezhad's Letter to President Bush

This is an excellent analysis of Ahmadinejad's letter to President Bush. (Thanks to Dave in Texas.)

Just one point to make: He forgot "Death to Israel."

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Christians Up In Arms!

Goodness. A veritable bloodbath.

Take a look at this thread (post and comments; comments only) by Ace, "Andrew Sullivan Likens Christian Conservatives To Islamists; Coins Term "Christianists"," at the Ace of Spades HQ.

We bring this up because despite the excesses of Christianity in the past and despite controversial policies and beliefs in the present, We believe that much of the condemnation and odium directed towards Christianity (as a religion, as an institution, as a collection of institutions, as believers, as individuals) is quite undeserved if not over the top.

For one thing, the amount of charitable work Christians do is phenomenal. One ought to compare it to the charity work (or lack thereof) of Muslims and Hindus. (We are not aware what charity work, if any, Confucists, Daoists, Shinto-ists, Buddhists, and others do.) Theirs is no where as pervasive, active, present, and effective as those of Christians and, to a degree, Jews. Indeed, in some areas the only sources of education and healthcare are Christian charities (and that usually The Roman Catholic Church).

So, comparatively, Christianity does not deserve the condemnation and hatred it receives. Many people operate within the confines of what they are aware of: We ask that they become a bit more aware of what other institutions are like and then act accordingly.

As an aside, the following verse is quite the favorite of Christians condemning conservative Christians: "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). Ignoring its context, We find it almost amusing that this would be quoted. It works against them: in judging conservative Christians, they are being judgmental, which they are condemning. A vicious circle of...hypocrisy? not understanding their own scriptures? inconsistency? We know not.

As We mentioned in the thread, We are not Roman Catholic and We do not identify as an Evangelical or politically social conservative. We do not agree with everything Christians do (indeed, We strongly disapprove of what certain Christians, liberals and conservatives, do) but We believe that all too often people lash out against Christianity out of ignorance, bigotry, malice, or other negative and irrelevant emotions.

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.

Quoting Goldstein: Freedom of the Press

Regarding yet another violation of the freedom of the press regarding college publications, Dr. Jeff Goldstein says (emphasis added):

Control the message and you control all. And if the last few years have taught us anything, it is that free speech is appreciated far more in theory than in practice by those who have a vested interest in retaining control of a narrative—or in shaping new narratives to reinforce their agendas.

In the case of university administrators, they tend to be happiest when the perception of their campus is one of happy diversity—so long as the diversity is superficial, and the collegiality is a result of tepid, non-offensive messages.

We have entered the age of the Stepford Campus, I’m afraid. And we must either fight back, or else give up the old system as terminally ill and move on to something new.

Quite well said.

Although this would not be the best place to put this, this somewhat reminds me of a joke Our father told Us not too long ago. He was speaking with a member of the Pakistani press community who complained to Our father that in previous regimes the press was not allowed to speak freely. Now, under President Musharraf, that the press can speak freely, no one's listening to them.

We would rather media be free yet ignored than stifled and oppressed. We also find it to be the height of hypocrisy that institutions devoted to debate, higher education, higher learning, diversity, and dialogue would find it acceptable to stifle the freedom of the press. We also find it unacceptable and hypocritical that these same people accuse Republicans, conservatives, Bush, The Government, and other entities, of stifling debate and dialogue in a fascist manner. The fact they can air these views and can excoriate Bush and his administration, no matter how full of lies their statements may be, proves, indeed, that these claims of censorship are plainly wrong. Deplorable and untenable. And utterly ridiculous indeed.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam. wa jiff gholdasteen innaa huwa-l-a'lam.

Dan Brown: Part the Second

We have been exposed to only two of Dan Brown's works: The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. We were well aware that the former was anti-Catholic. In reading about Angels & Demons, it seemed to Us that the victim in the book was The Catholic Church. So, We bought it. And We were quite disappointed.

Reading it was a pleasure in the beginning. It was fast-paced, and Brown used a technique I found to be very captivating and which a few books also used: using many small chapters, each one about a scene or person. Thus, Group A are doing such-and-such in chapter VI, and in chapter VII Group B's actions are told. While reading about Group B, We are anxious to read about Group A. A useful style indeed. Although Brown's book is not the first place We encountered this technique: We have forgotten where We first noticed it.

The basic premise of the book revolves around the supposed rise of a secret anti-Catholic, anti-religious, atheistic, and pro-scientific organization called "The Illuminati." Janus, who supposedly is the head of The Illuminati, uses an unnamed Hassassin (as Brown puts it), a descendent of the Nizari Ismaili Assassins of Alamut, to commit the various crimes The Illuminati evidently set into motion to bring down The Catholic Church, literally and figuratively. The Illuminati hate The Catholic Church, accusing The Catholic Church of persecuting scientists, tearing down science, and attempting to crush science and reason with religion, tyranny, and oppression. Involved in this is CERN, some European research entity that is almost religiously and evangelically atheist. One of its top scientists is murdered by the Hassassin on orders of The Illuminati. Evidently this scientist, a Catholic priest, was about to scientifically prove the existence of God. There are others reasons why he was murdered. His adopted daughter, Vera, accompanies Robert Langdon (the protagonist here as in The Da Vinci Code, where Vera accompanies him as well). It seems that The Illuminati are Hell-bent on eradicating The Vatican, and plan to do so as its cardinals come together to elect a new pope.

A brief note before continuing. Brown uses the word "Hassassin" to refer to a group and as a singular noun. This is technically incorrect. Also, the use of "s" is also technically incorrect. This word Brown uses is supposedly derived from the Arab word from which comes the English word "assassin." This Arabic word is "Ha(sh)(sh)aa(sh)een," which means "those who take hashish," "hashish" being a narcotic. This word, it should be noted, is in the plural, specifically the oblique plural or the plural ending used when the word is in the accusative or genitive case. Coloquially, many people use the oblique plural by default. The nominative plural would be "Ha(sh)(sh)aa(sh)oon." The singular would be "Ha(sh)(sh)aa(sh)." (As one can see, the nominative plural is "oon," while the oblique plural is "een.") Why Brown replaced "sh" with "s" We do not know. Brown should have used, in easier English transcription, "Hashishun" or "Hashishin" to refer to the group, and "hashash" or "hashaash" to refer to an individual from this group. There is still debate whether this term for the group known as the Assassins is correct. Some, such as Farhad Daftary, claim that this is a disparaging term used by Muslims to refer to these Shiite sectarians, evidently that they are so whacked out they must be smoking it up. Another explanation, from Muslim and non-Muslim sources, for this term refers to the rrumor or legend that this group would take young men, drug them up, take them to a garden with many earthly pleasures, saying that this is what Heaven would be life. After removing the young men from "Heaven," they would send them out to accomplish whatever mission they were given, with the promise that successfully completing it will earn them such a wonderful reward in Heaven. This group was characterized not only by its ruthfulness and reach but also with its members' devotion, who would gladly die for the group and its deeds. Considering today's suicide terrorists and how they are motivated by religious zealotry instead of drugs, this explanation of drugging members could be false: there are other motivators and influencers than drugs. The group called itself "al-fidaa'iyoon" (oblique plural is "al-fidaayeen"; singular is "al-fidaa'ee"), meaning "those who sacrifice themselves." Muslim suicide terrorists used the same word today (often using the oblique plural instead of the nominative plural).

Also, Brown uses a word to refer to cardinals who are preferred to become pope: "preferiti." The actual word in common use is "papabile."

Warning: Spoilers ahead. Do not proceed if you plan to read the book.

It turns out that the continued existence of The Illuminati was a hoax. The Hassassin was duped. The real mastermind, Janus's real identity, was the Camerlengo, he who is in charge of The Vatican between popes. The Camerlengo had the scientists (and, later, four cardinals) murdered, planted an extremely destructive device under The Vatican, and killed the former pope. Why? Because people needed a miracle to retore the fear and love of God into their hearts, and they needed something (an organization) to unite them in opposition so that they would reject science and embrace religion. It seems that CERN's atheist, anti-religious director was right in his staunchly anti-religious rants.

Once We realized the direction the book was going in, We decided enough was enough. We skimmed the rest.

Why? Why is Brown so anti-religious? Why must he portray The Catholic Church as harboring violent fanatics who kill with impunity? Why does he depict conservatives as evil and religiously liberal people as good, if misguided, human beings? Why is Brown distorting the science-religion debate with such biased and counterproductive fiction?

Yes, the book is fiction, but like all books it has a message. Good wins, evil loses. In this case, religion is evil and science is good. Religion is trying to oppress science and is wrong; science's uncompromising opposition to religion is justified. A double standard indeed.

We were quite disappointed in this book. Far from being the victim, The Catholic Church, yet again, is portrayed as the villain

Would an author using anti-Islamic or anti-Semitic rhetoric ever be able to become as popular as Brown? No. He'd be condemned throughout the Republic. (Except anti-Semites, who would be hailed as "courageous" by academics.) But Brown's anti-Catholic schtick makes him popular and rich. Quite sad, really.

Update: In the comments, Christopher Taylor sagely points out that Brown is not so much anti-religion as he is anti-Christianity. Brown's pontifications (through his characters) on paganism, feminism, and other New Age-ish movements demonstrate that Brown would like to support and promote this modern challenger to traditional religions or, at least, to Christianity.

Indeed, We had forgotten that arguments Gnostics (and now ardently atheist scientists) make against the dominant religion are being used by members of the New Age movement against Christianity.

However, from what We have seen from and discussed with adolfo velasquez (a frequent commenter at the Ace of Spades HQ), this anti-Christianity is not an integral part of Neo-paganism. We feel Brown is doing a disservice to Neo-paganism, to Christianity, and to popular conceptions of religion and Christianity, particularly when he uses lies within truths and propaganda to support his agenda.

This is not for the sake of comparison, but this reminds Us of what We have heard from somewhere (We have forgotten where) that the problem with Satan is not that he lies but that he mixes truths with falsehoods: people believe him because of the truths but are utterly misled because of the lies.

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Lone and Dreary World

Ever so often We do not post for a few days. Sometimes it is because We are busy. Most of the time, however, it is because the news We wish to comment on is not pleasant and We are sick of it all. We just want to escape.

While various blogs We frequent are good at informing Us of newsworthy items, they also entertain Us. This is quite important indeed to Us. We can only take so much exposure to reality.

Though the world is not pretty, and it seems to get uglier every day, it is nice to know that one can still laugh and for a fleeting moment be transported away from this lone and dreary world.

On a random note: We extend Our appreciation and thanks to all of Our readers and to all bloggers. You make life for Us quite pleasant indeed.

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.

Dan Brown: Part the First

We had heard quite a bit about Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. We have even read a book that straightens out a lot of the fiction he included in his book and explained what Christianity traditionally taught and what Gnosticism taught, how they are different, and why this matters.

Anyone who has studied about pseudepigraphia and/or alternative "Christian" groups would be quite aware of a number of "facts" that Brown's main character allegedly "exposes." These arguments are very old, perhaps going as far back as the Primitive Christian Church - the Church of the Apostles or those right after them. In the New Testament, one can already see the formation of schismatic and heretical sects, which the Apostle Paul was trying to weed out.

The same phenomenon, to a limited degree, happened with Judaism. The difference, of course, was that the Gnostics then used Judaism and Jewish-seeming pseudepigraphs.

We should explain what a pseudepigraph is. A pseudepigraph (pronounced as "syoo-deh-pih-graf") is a text written by someone but said to be written by someone else. This someone else is some significant figure. An example would be someone (named Jeremias Matthias) writing a text and then saying that the text in his hands was written by none other than Judas Iscariot or the Apostles Thomas or Mary, the Mother of God. A Jewish pseudepigraph would use Jewish figures such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel, or any one of the many prophets. It is the opposite of plagiarism: instead of stealing another's words and claiming it as one's own, one puts one's own words in another's mouth. A contemporary example would be Democrats alleging that Thomas Jefferson (He of the Many Volumes) wrote that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. (This is a loose example: Democrats have yet to produce a book by Mr. Jefferson written on the idea they accuse him of. If Kerry produced a tattered volume entitled Dissent, allegedly written by Thomas Jefferson but whose style is eerily like Kerry's, then one would have an excellent example of a pseudepigraph.)

We find it somehow annoying when people jump in exhiliration at the possibilities and truths that Brown's novel supposedly uncovers. This is a work of fiction. Brown has masterfully mixed truth and fiction: a bit too well, perhaps, as people have difficulty telling the two apart.

We were aghast when we watched a documentary on The Discovery Channel (or The History Channel, or something along these lines) concerning whether Leonardo da Vinci could have produced the Shroud of Turin. Leonardo da Vinci? This is the first We heard of this theory. We were aghast not because of what was proposed (and what the documentarians attempted to verify) but because they used arguments that sounded eerily similar to strains of thought, if not actual arguments, found in The Da Vinci Code.

We were also quite aghast when We learned that people, spurred and motivated by The Da Vinci Code, protested outside Opus Dei's headquarters in The United States (which is in New York). We had done some research on Opus Dei before We had even heard of The Da Vinci Code and its sinsiter insinuations against this organization. True, they are secretive. True, they are quite conservative. True, they use methods of sanctification that seem outlandish if not primitive and uncivilized to modern people. True, they involve a person's entire life and day. But this is precisely why Opus Dei was established: to make saints (in the Catholic interpretation) of everyday people. The method to attain this, according to them, is quite rigorous and involved. But joining and staying in this organization is voluntary. It is true that their unquestioning and unquestioned loyalty to conservative Catholicism and to The Magisterium/The Holy See makes this organization an enemy of liberal, progressive, and otherwise non-conservative Catholics (and We are sure Opus Dei makes even conservative Catholics somewhat wary), but it is certainly nothing like the conniving, manipulative, and utilitarian organization as depicted in The Da Vinci Code. However, We do understand why non-conservative Catholics would be alarmed. Pope John Paul the Great canonized its founder, Josemaría Escrivá, and elevated Opus Dei to a personal prelature. Pope Benedict XVI's right-hand man, Georg Gänswein, is a member of Opus Dei. The Director of the Press Office of The Holy See, Joaquin Navarro Valls, is also a member of Opus Dei. Is this because they infiltrate the top ranks or because The Holy See trusts them and feels comfortable around them?

Every religion as some form of Gnosticism. "Gnosticism" refers to two things: a specific religious movement (now extinct, although there seems to be a resurgence of sorts) and a spiritual tendency. The latter refers to a theory that obtaining certain knowledge will secure one's salvation. This is where the "gnosis" of "gnosticism" comes from: "gnosis" means "knowledge." The specific movement refers to that which sprung from Christianity and even competed with Christianity (in that heretics were undermining Christian leaders and leading Christians astray) until this heresy was refuted and put down. Of course, force was used as well as persuasion, but such was the world then.

Indeed, We wonder what different there is, if any, between Gnosticism (as "knowledge will grant you salvation") and mystery schools ("this hidden knowledge only this organization can tell you will grant you salvation").

In any case, hybrid forms of Gnosticism seem to be rising, particularly as part of the New Age Movement. Gnosticism is also popular in today's "tear down authority" culture as Gnostic documents (many of which still exist today, especially thanks to the Nag Hammadi Library) viciously attack standard, traditional, and organized Christianity.

A central argument of The Da Vinci Code and of some Gnostics is that The Church (although referring to organized Christianity, one should understand that in today's terms this refers to The Roman Catholic Church; the East-West Schism and the Protestant Reformation had not occured before Gnosticism was neutralized, so for Gnostics there was only one Church to speak of, about, and to) knows the truth and deliberately hides it. This is utterly ridiculous. We are sure The Holy See has Gnostic texts. This is not to supress them but out of historical curiosity. Just because The Holy See has it does not necessarily mean there's an ulterior motive involved.

We congratulate Brown for his skill and for his success, but We are disheartened at what impact it has had on the gullible minds of many seeking some excuse to tear down what they see as oppressive and authoritarian structures, without regard to actual truth. It is frustrating when complex issues are exposed to people, changing their opinions, thoughts, beliefs, and behavior, while experts know the actual situation was and is different than what was protrayed. For a work of fiction, The Da Vinci Code does influence a large number of people.

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Rambling Post on the Name of G-d


Out of respect for The Name, the following measures have been taken to not render the following post sacred:
replace "@" with "a"
replace "q" with "h"
replace "-" with "o"
replace "*" with "e"

Thus, this post is safe for devout Jews as well.

This is inspired by comments by Wickedpinto and Michael.

A central claim of Jehovah's Witnesses is getting the name of G-d right. This name, they contend, is "Jehovah." In the King James Version of the Christian Bible, "Jehovah" has been used a number of times.

How this word came about fascinates Us to no end.

For Jews, The Name is extremely sacred. It has been called The Ineffable Name (the name that must not be spoken). Another name, especially common in Western Mysticism, is the Tetragrammaton or the Four-lettered Name (because it is written with four letters in Hebrew). The Name consists of the Hebrew letters yod (which has a "y" sound), heh (which has a "h" sound), vav (which has a "v" sound or may be used to indicate "o" or "u"; in Biblical times, its consonantal sound was "w"), and a final heh. As one can see, The Name, as given to this point, cannot be pronounced. Various traditions exist regarding when The Name can be used. It is usually said that it can be said only by the High Priest, on Yom Kippur, in front the Holy of Holies. To explain why no Jews pronounce The Name, it is now said that the true pronunciation had been lost since the destruction of The Temple in 70 CE.

However, The Name can be found everywhere. The Hebrew Bible has The Name countless times. Prayers have The Name as well. A dilemma arose: how ought Jews of the Biblical eras to preserve The Name while preventing people from profaning it? The custom had already existed to replace The Name with a Hebrew word, "Ad-nay", meaning "L-rd." The dilemma was solved by placing beneath the consonants of The Name the vowels of "Ad-nay" instead of the vowels of The Name. (In Hebrew, vowels are indicated by dashes and dots under, on top, or to the side of consonants. The Hebrew alphabet consists of consonants only.) Thus, when one would come across The Name, one would be reminded to pronounce it as "Ad-nay" (whose vowels were there) rather than as The Name would be pronounced. In the case the word "Ad-nay" preceded The Name, the vowels of the name "El-qim", which means, literally, "gods," but which connotes "G-d" (put into plural for majesty; when it means "G-d" it is treated as a singular masculine noun), were placed under The Name. With this constant substitution, the true vowels (and, thus, the true pronunciation) of The Name was forgotten.

If one were to recreate the pronunciation of The Name using the vowels of "Ad-nay," one would get "Yehovah" (or "Yehowah"). (Both "Yehovah" and "Yehowah" are nonsensical in Hebrew. Hence, the lack of rendering them profane: they were not sacred to begin with.) However, there seems to be something wrong. In places, it seems that the name of G-d was Y@h. The most famous example is "halleluyah," which is really two words: hallelu (imperative, "praise") and Y@h, meaning "Praise Y@h!" Such a pronunciation is also supported by various Hebrew names: Mattityahu (Matthew), Yeshayahu (Isaiah; also known as "Yeshaya"), Yechizqiyahu (Ezekiel), and Eliyahu (Elijah) are some examples. This also fits The Name: If one took the first three letters, one could derive from it the name "Y@hu."

But The Name has four letters: there is another heh. "Yahuh" cannot be The Name. Such a construction would not be in accordance with Hebrew. But, if The Name were to be divided into two syllables (assuming that Y@hu is a contraction and permutation of The Name), then one gets a Hebrew-sounding word (and, indeed, a word that follows the rules of Hebrew): Y@hv*h. This is especially plausible considering the tradition that The Name is to suggest that G-d was, is, and will be (havah hovah v'yihyeh). The phrase is spelled: heh-yod-heh heh-vav-heh vav-yod-heh-yod-heh. Notice that the phrase in Hebrew uses all of the letters of The Name, and that its letters come only from The Name.

Sometimes one will find The Name transliterated as Y@hw*h. This is to render The Name as one might imagine it would have been pronounced in the Biblical ages.

So, The Name, according to the Hebrew text of the Bible, is Y@hv*h. Nevertheless, it will always be "Ad-nay" or "hashem" (literally, "the name") for those who continue to keep The Name sacred according to Jewish traditions.

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.

Blogging and Academicity

Ac academic, whom We shall not identify because We have yet to ask him whether We can divulge his name as someone with whom We have conversed and whom We may quote, once informed Us that one reason he does not blog is because of Dr. Juan Cole's example. When an academic leaves the confines of academia and joins the blogosphere, the academic becomes a demagogue, an academic no more. Indeed, this much was even admitted by Dr. Cole when he admitted that the pressures, perspectives, and demands of blogging differ from those of academia. Rather than being an instructor and researcher, the academic becomes a "pundit," which does great harm to his academic pursuits and, thus, also to his academic credibility. Rather than speaking to his peers, he is speaking down to the masses. The standards he, as an academic, must maintain while speaking to his peers vanish when one begins speaking to the masses.

We would go so far as to say that Dr. Cole has lost what made him initially legitimate: his being an academic. In Our eyes, Dr. Cole has no legitimacy. Indeed, the exposure of startling errors he made makes Us to go on: he is quite ignorant.

Dr. Victor Davis Hanson has a blog-website (it is a blog and it is a website but is neither one exclusively). Yet, one cannot say he blogs: he publishes. One aspect of his publishing is answering questions and publishing his responses on his blog-website. Amongst his responses are his articles and other published material. This is quite different from what Dr. Cole does. Dr. Hanson remains an academic. Indeed, despite how academics may view him, he is perhaps an academic par excellence.

Another example We can point to is Dr. Jeff Goldstein. He does not claim to be an academic. He used to be one. He blogs. He is a pundit. Yet, his standards are quite rigorous, and can take on any academic on the academic's own turf, so to speak. Indeed, if one claims Dr. Cole is still an academic, one must admit that Dr. Goldstein is also an academic, particularly when Dr. Goldstein's standards are higher than Dr. Cole's.

As useful as it may be to be an academic and to blog, it is difficult to retain one's adacemicity, so to speak, while blogging. However, Drs. Hanson and Goldstein have shown that this is possible. But Dr. Cole shows that, particularly on the Left, it is still a great peril.

Update: We should add that this post was inspired by this thread of the Ace of Spades Headquarters and by Dr. Goldstein of protein wisdom, who routinely excellently critiques Dr. Cole. Also, We have added links in the post above.

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.