Monday, 8/25/14

  1. Islams and Christianities
  2. Mechanisms and causes
  3. The sacred precincts of the Iowa marital bedroom


Recommended; Ali Mamouri, Islam’s moderate voices drowned out by extremists The overwhelming majority of Muslims want nothing to do with terrorism.

Mamouri makes a very important point:

[T]here exists more than one Islamic faith.

Islam is an umbrella term, which covers multiple differences within the religion. While Muslims hold similar beliefs concerning Allah, the prophet Muhammad, and the holy Quran, a wide diversity exists when it comes to the details and interpretation of religious doctrines. Tunisian Muslim scholar Abdul Majid al-Sharafi described this phenomenon as the “municipality of Islam”.

(Emphasis added) That’s why the prattle from our talking heads makes me crazy, be it Dubya pronouncing Islam a “religion of peace” or Father Fatwah declaring that all true Muslims are part of a murderous sleeper cell:

[T]oday the global Salafist movement, funded greatly by the Saudi regime and other sources, has great mosques, institutes, universities and schools. Its strong organisation and powerful media outlets enable them to publicly occupy most of the Muslim world and parts of Muslim communities in the west.

(Mamouri) This isn’t unlike Roman Catholicism (great Cathedrals, institutes, universities and schools; maybe strong organization, too) or Evangelicalism (powerful media outlets) in Christendom. Ask someone in the U.S. what Christians are like and you’ll probably get an answer based on Roman Catholicism or the Dispensationalist Evangelicalism that dominates the airwaves and the minds of its adherents.

The Quran is typically cited as the ultimate source of terrorism and extremism among Muslims. This inaccuracy is based on cherry-picking selected verses; favourable words are accentuated while contradictory verses are ignored.

The reality is that the Quran – like the Bible and many other sacred books – uses religious language that is open to multiple interpretations. Many verses that could be seen as motivating violence can also be found in the Bible.

Muslims, like Jews and Christians, have a variety of interpretations of these texts. The word “jihad”, for example, is understood by Sufist Muslims as an esoteric term for fighting the evil instincts inside the human soul to gain ethical virtue.

(Mamouri, who goes on to discuss interpretation of the Quran and of Sharia Law.)

None of this should really come as a surprise, and I hope it doesn’t; but I rarely hear pronouncements that reflect any understanding that “there is more than one Islamic faith,” just as there are multiple – 30,000 by a common account among Catholic and Orthodox – distinct Protestant traditions with varying interpretations of the Bible to which they all profess allegiance. Apparently, it’s been that way in Islam since the beginning; in Christendom, I’d argue that it wasn’t so for 1000+ years, but that’s an argument for another day. For right here and now, we have fringe Christian groups that advocate theocracy, including restoration of many Old Testament capital crimes.

Here’s Mamouri’s closing recommendation, which I hope would be efficacious, though I’m unsure:

Islam should not be considered from the perspective of fundamentalism as, in the end, this will strengthen the extremists’ position. Rather, it should be understood by opening a dialogue, supporting and co-operating with the moderates who offer a different understanding of Islam.

My nagging fear is that ISIS, the current menace, requires something more immediate than dialogue (I’m not sure it does; I’ve repeatedly distinguished evil, for which there’s no “answer,” from a problem, for which there presumably is one) and that attacking any group under the umbrella of Islam would be taken as attacking all.


The Writer’s Almanac should stick to poetry. Sometimes, it’s more satisfying than prose.

665 years ago on Sunday, 6,000 Jews in Mainz, Germany were dragged from their homes and thrown on bonfires for causing the Black Death by “poisoning the water and trying to destroy Christendom,” as one of many competing theories of the Plague’s cause had it. The Writer’s Almanac tells the story and then adds a dubious postscript:

We now know, of course, that the plague was caused by a bacillus, Yersinia pestis, which was spread through flea bites. The fleas came to Europe and North Africa by ship across the Black Sea, carried on the bodies of plague-infected rats from the central Asian steppes.

Well, yes. But since “we now know,” why do you need to remind us? Are you just feeding our chronological snobbery?

What we now know (most of us for no better reason than that one of today’s acknowledged authorities told us) disproves the “Jews poisoned water, trying to destroy Christendom” theory. But does it disprove the (competing? complementing?) “wrath of God” theory?

If the “wrath of God” theory had prevailed, and had led to repentance instead of scapegoating (e.g., “God is wrathful toward us because we allow the perfidious Jews to live among us”), I think would have been good.

And maybe there’d have followed a felicitous  outbreak of spider, beetles, ants, frogs, snakes, nematodes (or some combination) to control the fleas.

Identifying the mechanism doesn’t identify the final cause.

(No, I’ve not lapsed back into Calvinism, and I’m no likelier to credit Pat Robertson’s faux prophetic proclamation that divine wrath caused the next Tsunami than that it caused the last one.)


If a nursing home tells you in writing that your wife’s dementia is now so bad that she can’t consent to sexual relations, do you:

  1. Rejoice that the horny old goats with dementia will be told she’s off limits?
  2. File it away as irrelevant information, mistakenly thinking she gave presumptive consent when you married?

In Iowa, number 2 could get you charged with sexual assault, as State Representative Henry Rayhons is learning the hard way, as no less a figure than the state Attorney General (not the local prosecutor) is undertaking to prosecute him for engaging in the marital act with the woman to whom he was married, who is not said to have refused.

I have stifled some thoughts on how wrong this is. (H/T Elder Law Prof Blog)

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.