Monday, April 28, 2008



[quoting Fjordman:]

. . . in India, Muslims were initially viewed as just another group of foreigners, sometimes annoying, but essentially marginal: "There is no evidence of an Indian appreciation of the global threat which they represented; and the peculiar nature of their mission – to impose a new monotheist orthodoxy by military conquest and political dominion – was so alien to Indian tradition that it went uncomprehended."

Parts of northern India had been invaded by outsiders before, but Muslims represented a very different breed of conquerors. Keay again:
"Unlike Alexander's Greeks, Muslim invaders were well aware of India's immensity, and mightily excited by its resources. As well as exotic produce like spices, peacocks, pearls, diamonds, ivory and ebony, the 'Hindu country' was renowned for its skilled manufactures and its bustling commerce. India's economy was probably one of the most sophisticated in the world. Guilds regulated production and provided credit; the roads were safe, ports and markets carefully supervised, and tariffs low. Moreover capital was both plentiful and conspicuous. Since at least Roman times the subcontinent seems to have enjoyed a favourable balance of payments. Gold and silver had been accumulating long before the 'golden Guptas,' and they continued to do so. Figures in the Mamallapuram sculptures and the Ajanta frescoes are as strung about with jewellery as those in the Sanchi and Amaravati reliefs. Divine images of solid gold are well attested and royal temples were rapidly becoming royal treasuries as successful dynasts endowed them with the fruits of their conquests. The devout Muslim, although ostensibly bent on converting the infidel, would find his zeal handsomely rewarded."

history "may not teach us particular lessons, but it does tell us how we might live in the world", . . . a historical sense "will give us the best guide we'll ever have for groping our way into an unpredictable future".

--Gordon S. Wood

The Purpose of the Past: Reflections of the Uses of History (Penguin, 2008)


A Book Review by JBD

This volume, The Purpose of the Past: Reflections of the Uses of History (Penguin, 2008) collects twenty-one of Gordon S. Wood's essay-length book reviews, written over the past two and a half decades for the New York Review of Books, The New Republic, The Atlantic and other publications. With these essays Wood, one of America's most critically-acclaimed academic historians, offers little less than a thorough review of recent historical scholarship, with enhancements in the form of a thoughtful introduction and short afterwords appended to each essay.

One of the threads running through these selections is Wood's discomfort with the intrusion of literary theory into historical writing. He declares bluntly that "the epistemological skepticism and blurring of genres that seem to have made sense for some literary scholars had devastating implications for historians .... The result of all this postmodern history, with its talk of 'deconstruction,' 'decentering,' 'textuality,' and 'essentialism,' has been to make academic history writing almost as esoteric and inward directed as the writing of literary scholars. This is too bad, since history is an endeavor that needs a wide readership to justify itself" (4-6).

I couldn't agree more with this view - I share Wood's intense dislike for historical writing so filled with jargony gobbledygook that whatever narrative might be lurking within is utterly obscured by language which means absolutely nothing to anyone not in tune with the babble of befuddling banality unleashed on society by the theoreticians. I also happen to agree with Wood on another of his major points (that history "may not teach us particular lessons, but it does tell us how we might live in the world", that a historical sense "will give us the best guide we'll ever have for groping our way into an unpredictable future").

Wood is nothing if not very a careful historian, and many of the reviews included here offer cautionary notes for would-be writers of history. He argues against the practice of offering exaggerated claims of how x influenced y ("in most cases tracing the source of broadly shared ideas is a fool's errand" - 29); urges historians to be conscious of - and quite wary of - inserting anachronism and/or presentism into their writing; and suggests that historical writing should be seen as less a vehicle for imparting lessons than the opportunity to explain, to tell a story.

There weren't all that many things said in Wood's reviews that I found myself in strong disagreement with, one important exception being his 1991 NYRB review of Simon Schama's Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations). In this very non-traditional book, which the author himself described as something of an experiment, Schama inserted fictional musings and "novelistic devices" into his narrative: Wood was profoundly disturbed by this, and both in his review and in the afterword to it printed here decries the "devastating effects such a work by a distinguished historian could have on the conventions of the discipline" (109). Since I feel myself completely capable of distinguishing between fiction and non-fiction (and perhaps because I do like a bit of historical fiction if it's written well), I had no problem with Schama's experimentation in Dead Certainties, and wouldn't mind reading more of it (I do agree, however, with Wood's criticism about the book being classified as history by the Library of Congress and not fiction - that is problematic).

When my copy of The Purpose of the Past arrived, I immediately opened to the last review to see if it was the one I hoped it would be: Wood's 28 June 2007 NYRB review of two recent books (Lawrence Goldstone's Dark Bargain and Robin Einhorn's American Taxation, American Slavery). I had reviewed Goldstone's book almost a year earlier, and was pleased to see many of my own criticisms echoed by Wood (who offered what I think was a very fair and even-handed treatment of a truly misguided book). Goldstone's vituperative response to Wood's review is a prime example of how not to react to criticism: he suggests that Wood "dismisses" his work as that of an amateur, when (as Wood replied) Goldstone's lack of "academic appointment" has nothing whatever to do with the failings of Dark Bargain.

Writers and readers of American historical scholarship will find Wood's essays enlightening, clearly-written, and at time provocative. I recommend them highly.

posted by JBD @ 3:43 PM April 27, 2008

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


That fateful day at Regensburg?


Did he insult the sensibilities of the Moslems of the world?

Or was it a learned discourse about the relationship of

faith and reason?

(Is there reason in the faith of Islam? Or is it an irrational drive to convert or subjugate the world to a faith that has no reason? [rhetorical questions mine ed.])

What did he say? What did he really say, that Benedict XVI, the Holy Father of the Catholic Church and the Pope to the rest of the world?

Well, read it for yourself:

Here are his words. This is what the Pope said--official from the Vatican--although . . .

"The Holy Father intends to supply a subsequent version of this text, complete with footnotes. The present text must therefore be considered provisional."
© Copyright 2006 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[Ed. my, LW, note: The "good" parts, the parts that everybody is looking for, have been emphasized bold and in red. this emphasis is not Benedict XVI's, but is mine]

First, here is Pope Benedict XVI's concluding statement:

"Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God", said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university".

And here is that portion of the Pope's address that contains the part--the forceful [sic] expression of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II:

[Quote - this is the Pope speaking now]

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. . . . .

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the λόγος". This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, σὺν λόγω, with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (cf. Acts 16:6-10) - this vision can be interpreted as a "distillation" of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.

In point of fact, this rapprochement had been going on for some time. The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and simply declares "I am", already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates' attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy. Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: "I am". This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Ps 115). Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature. Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria - the Septuagint - is more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity. A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act "with logos" is contrary to God's nature.

[end of quote]

Read the whole thing at

© Copyright 2006 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

And that [as Forrest Gump would say] is all I'm going to say about that. LW


Q: What do they have in common?

A: They were both interviewed by the same person


(La inolvidable Oriana)

Fallaci Goes-a Few Rounds with the Ayatollah Khomeini

"In memory of Oriana Fallaci, who died in 2006 in Florence Italy, I'm posting
excerpts from her 1979 interview with Ayatollah Khomeini, not long after he came
to power (these quotes appeared as part of a piece the New Yorker..."
neo-neocon -

from The New Yorker:
Oriana Fallaci directs her fury toward Islam.

" did not take long to realize that in spite of his [the Ayatollah Khomeini's] quiet appearance he represented the Robespierre or the Lenin of something which would go very far and would poison the world. People loved him too much. They saw in him another Prophet. Worse: a God."

Upon leaving Khomeini’s house after her first interview, Fallaci was besieged by Iranians who wanted to touch her because she’d been in the Ayatollah’s presence. “The sleeves of my shirt were all torn off, my slacks, too,” she recalled. “My arms were full of bruises, and hands, too. Do believe me: everything started with Khomeini. Without Khomeini, we would not be where we are. What a pity that, when pregnant with him, his mother did not choose to have an abortion.”


A passage from Fallaci's The Force of Reason:
re-quoted from "Polistra"

Last August I was received in private audience by Ratzinger. A Pope who loves my work since he read 'Letter to a Child Never Born' and whom I deeply respect since I read his intelligent books. Morover, with whom I happen to agree in many occasions. For example, when he writes that the West has developed a sort of hatred toward itself. That it no longer loves itself, that it has lost its spirituality and risks to lose its identity too. ... This is also why I state that, in selling itself to theocratic Islam, secularism has missed the most important appointment offered to it by History.

And in doing so it has opened a void, an abyss, that only spirituality can fill. It is also why in the Church of today I see an unexpected partner, an unexpected ally.... Unless, of course, the Church too misses its appointment with History. Something I don't foresee, though. And I don't becuse, in reaction to the materialistic ideologies which have characterized the century we just left, the century ahead seems to me marked by an inevitable nostalgia or irresistible need of religiousness.

In other words, you can't replace an evil religion with an empty theory like democracy. You have to replace it with a good religion, and the Pope is best positioned to start such a replacement.


Also see

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A German's point of view on Islam

From American Congress for Truth

A man whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism.

'Very few people were true Nazis 'he said,' but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.'

We are told again and again by 'experts' and 'talking heads' that Islam is the religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the spectra of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam. The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history.

It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honor kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. The hard quantifiable fact is that the 'peaceful majority', the 'silent majority', is cowed and extraneous.

Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant.

China's huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.

The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a warmongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet.

And, who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were 'peace loving'?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points:

Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence. Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun. Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghanis, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late.

As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts; the fanatics who threaten our way of life.

Lastly, at the risk of offending, anyone who doubts that the issue is serious and just deletes this email without sending it on, is contributing to the passiveness that allows the problems to expand. So, extend yourself a bit and send this on and on and on! Let us hope that thousands world wide, read this -think about it - and send it on.

[Regarding Germans and Moslems, also click on and then read Moslems are not Jews-Letter to the Germans]
American Congress for Truth
P.O. Box 6884
Virginia Beach, VA 23456