Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Muhammad's War Against the Jews

It's often argued that Islam’s hostility towards Jews is a recent development stemming from the establishment of the state of Israel, the inspiration of European anti-Semitism, and/or the distortion of the writings of Muhammad, “the Prophet.” History shows otherwise. Muhammad himself ethnically-cleansed Medina of Jews, as I wrote in my most cited blog entry, last year.

The denial of Muhammad’s treatment of the Jews takes many forms: it didn’t happen, it was understandable, or it was a one-time exception. The first form of denial is common among Westerners; recently published books omit the complete story, if they tell it at all. Past scholars were duty-bound to present the full history even as they disagreed on its meaning; I examined a case in point in last year's article.

Islamic critics of my depiction of Muhammad’s actions against the Jews, generally argue that it was understandable – the Jews brought it on themselves. This is often touted as a moderate viewpoint! Since Muhammad didn’t do this out of bigotry, hatred, or malice, the argument goes, Islam is moderate – the Jews only have to behave and they haven’t ever since. This viciousness speaks for itself.

Let’s see what Edward Gibbon says about Muhammad and the Jews in his history of the Roman Empire:
The choice of Jerusalem for the first kebla of prayer discovers the early propensity of Mahomet in favour of the Jews; and happy would it have been for their temporal interest, had they recognized, in the Arabian prophet, the hope of Israel and the promised Messiah. Their obstinacy converted his friendship into implacable hatred, with which he pursued that unfortunate people to the last moment of his life; and in the double character of an apostle and a conqueror, his persecution was extended to both worlds. (135)

He seized the occasion of an accidental tumult, and summoned them to embrace his religion, or contend with him in battle. "Alas!" replied the trembling Jews, "we are ignorant of the use of arms, but we persevere in the faith and worship of our fathers; why wilt thou reduce us to the necessity of a just defence?" The unequal conflict was terminated in fifteen days; and it was with extreme reluctance that Mahomet yielded to the importunity of his allies, and consented to spare the lives of the captives. But their riches were confiscated, their arms became more effectual in the hands of the Mussulmans; and a wretched colony of seven hundred exiles was driven, with their wives and children, to implore a refuge on the confines of Syria.
Ethnic cleansing is achieved either by expulsion or genocide. He drove out the first Jewish tribe. Other Jewish tribes realized that conflict was inevitable.
The Nadhirites were more guilty, since they conspired, in a friendly interview, to assassinate the prophet. He besieged their castle, three miles from Medina; but their resolute defence obtained an honourable capitulation; and the garrison, sounding their trumpets and beating their drums, was permitted to depart with the honours of war. The Jews had excited and joined the war of the Koreish: no sooner had the nations retired from the ditch, than Mahomet, without laying aside his armour, marched on the same day to extirpate the hostile race of the children of Koraidha. After a resistance of twenty-five days, they surrendered at discretion. They trusted to the intercession of their old allies of Medina; they could not be ignorant that fanaticism obliterates the feelings of humanity.
At this point apologists try to soften criticism of Muhammad by blaming his associate for the final solution.
A venerable elder, to whose judgment they appealed, pronounced the sentence of their death; seven hundred Jews were dragged in chains to the market-place of the city; they descended alive into the grave prepared for their execution and burial; and the apostle beheld with an inflexible eye the slaughter of his helpless enemies. Their sheep and camels were inherited by the Mussulmans: three hundred cuirasses, five hundred piles, a thousand lances, composed the most useful portion of the spoil.
It didn't end in Medina:
Six days' journey to the north-east of Medina, the ancient and wealthy town of Chaibar was the seat of the Jewish power in Arabia: the territory, a fertile spot in the desert, was covered with plantations and cattle, and protected by eight castles, some of which were esteemed of impregnable strength. The forces of Mahomet consisted of two hundred horse and fourteen hundred foot: in the succession of eight regular and painful sieges they were exposed to danger, and fatigue, and hunger; and the most undaunted chiefs despaired of the event. The apostle revived their faith and courage by the example of Ali, on whom he bestowed the surname of the Lion of God: perhaps we may believe that a Hebrew champion of gigantic stature was cloven to the chest by his irresistible cimeter; but we cannot praise the modesty of romance, which represents him as tearing from its hinges the gate of a fortress and wielding the ponderous buckler in his left hand. (136)

After the reduction of the castles, the town of Chaibar submitted to the yoke. The chief of the tribe was tortured, in the presence of Mahomet, to force a confession of his hidden treasure: the industry of the shepherds and husbandmen was rewarded with a precarious toleration: they were permitted, so long as it should please the conqueror, to improve their patrimony, in equal shares, for his emolument and their own. Under the reign of Omar, the Jews of Chaibar were transported to Syria; and the caliph alleged the injunction of his dying master; that one and the true religion should be professed in his native land of Arabia. (137)
Gibbon, like every historian, has had to rely solely on Islamic sources. One can question their veracity but usually one expects the devout to have a bias in favor of the religion. The description above suggests that Muslims traditionally accepted this narrative; but it might have been worse.

William H. McNeill in his classic 1963 text, The Rise of the West, [p442] describes very briefly Muhammad’s relations with the Jews:
When it became clear that Mohammed could not win the support of the Jewish colony in Medina, he instructed his followers to drive the Jewish farmers from the oasis. He then distributed their land among the faithful. But the community of believers grew so rapidly trough the adherence of outsiders that this entirely failed to solve the economic problem. Territorial expansion beyond the oasis of Medina was the next step. Accordingly, Mohammad’s followers quickly subjugated another Jewish oasis settlement situated some miles north of Medina. This time, however, the victorious Moslems refrained from driving the Jews from their lands, but instead compelled them to pay tribute to the Moslem community, which the Prophet then distributed among the faithful according to their needs and deserts. This incident provided the model for subsequent dealings between Moslem conquerors and their Jewish or Christian subjects, who as “People of the Book” were allowed to retain their own religion, customs, and institutions as long as they paid tribute.
Thus, prior to the PC era (politically correct era) it was common to explain, not explain away, Muhammad's ethnic-cleansing. The policy became contingent upon the refusal to submit to Islamic rule but it remains a back-up option for recalcitrant Jews. Today it is the goal of major Islamic leaders in both Shiite and Sunni communities. In the decades after WWII, close to one million Jews were ethnically-cleansed from Tangier to Tehran with two-thirds settling in Israel. In a vast land stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Hindu Kush, Muslims find it intolerable that even this tiny sliver of land remains in Jewish hands. The legacy of Muhammad lives on.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The History of Property Rights

Jim Powell, has an informative article on the roots of property rights in our Greco-Roman heritage. As Powell shows in his book, The Triumph of Liberty, it took 2000 years for the concept of liberty to evolve before our Declaration of Independence could be written. But let’s go back to Rome and get a sample of the thought of one great man from Jim’s article:
Roman lawyers, the greatest of whom was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) asserted the principles underlying a rule of law. "Nothing is certainly more ennobling," he wrote, "than for us to plainly understand that we are born to justice, and that law is instituted not by opinion but by nature.... If the fortunes of all cannot be equal, if the mental capacities of all cannot be the same, at least the legal rights of all those who are citizens of the same state ought to be equal."
Today, one of the main problems in under-developed nations is the failure to secure property rights. Hernando DeSoto, in his book, The Mystery of Capital, explains why the poor remain poor throughout the world. Unfortunately, given recent Supreme Court decisions expanding eminent domain and the massive issuance of economic regulations by the current Congress, we had better re-examine the path we are taking.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Well Worth Reading

1) How to Win the War Against Islamic Totalitarianism at Sixth Column. Excellent recommendations and great ideas – including some I haven’t seen elsewhere.
2) Hugh Fitzgerald explains the important factors that helped the Islamic Revival.
3) Onkar Ghate explains our failed policy of appeasement.
4) Walter Williams contrasts this policy with the past.
5) Govindini Murty says “’The Path to 9/11’ - much more than Oliver Stone’s ‘World Trade Center’ - will remind the nation why we’re in this war.” (link with pictures; hat tip Bilwick)
I’ve been busy reading Kant’s ethics but it doesn’t fall under the title of this post unless your interest is in cultural forensic science. I'll explain in a future post.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Update on the Islamic Revival

In an interesting article the author describes how the Islamic Revival has come to Bangladesh. Nationalism and Bengali ethnicity has given way to an Islamist identity. In parallel to the transformation in Bangladesh is a similar revival in the Bengali community in England. While the author’s causal explanation may or may not be correct, the description of the cultural change is similar to what I’ve read elsewhere.

This is happening through out the world, even in these isolated Islamic communities. Besides Bangladesh, I’ve read this is happening in British Columbia where those from the India sub-continent of Hindu and Muslim backgrounds often found a common bond in the fact of Anglo prejudice. The authority of Arab Salafists on matters Islamic is often accepted uncritically. And why not, they have the Koran and Hadith on their side?

The Real Neo-Nazi Threat

The evil of Nazi Germany is universally condemned for the extreme depravity that it embodies. In our culture, minimization of this evil is reason enough for ostracism. In many European countries, Holocaust denial is a crime punishable by incarceration.

There is no longer a threat of Nazism in Europe thanks to the annihilation of Germany by the Allied forces. Neo-Nazis are a fringe group quickly damned by the vast majority of decent people. Neo-Nazis are so rare in America that they are a freak show, trotted out for periodic display by television magazine shows. In one recent show, ABC’s Primetime, we hear about the pre-teen singing duo, the Gaede twins, who try to make Neo-Nazism adorable. Later in the show we see that this pathetic movement has few prospects – the Neo-Nazis were chased away when they tried to bring food for-whites-only in the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The fact that racism doesn’t sell in Mississippi shows how far the country has changed.

It’s safe to damn Nazism. Elliot Spitzer, who is running for governor of New York, mentions in a TV ad how he is fighting Neo-Nazism here in New York. He has it under control. Mel Gibson, while drunk, says some stupid things and there is an immediate outcry. We nipped that one in the bud. Günter Grass finally admitted he was in the Waffen-SS and without any hesitation we have Ferguson, Hitchens, and others on the case. Quite frankly, he’s not the person who worries me today.

Nevertheless I do understand: we should never forget. As Santayana once wrote, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It is important we remember what Günter Grass remembers (from Catherine Hickley’s review in the New York Sun):

Mr. Grass remembers, at the age of 12, watching curiously as a horde of storm troopers plundered, destroyed and set fire to a synagogue. "As a member of the Hitler Youth I was a young Nazi," he says. "A believer until the end."

We find Mr. Grass “chastising his young self for not asking the right questions and for failing to doubt the Nazi regime.” Indeed, the story is one we’ve heard often: good people who stand by and do nothing or worse, allow themselves to be caught-up in the hysteria.

But have we learned anything?

As we vociferously condemn Mel Gibson and the pre-teen Neo-Nazi twins, a leader of a major Islamic nation denies the Holocaust and announces his desire to annihilate the Jewish state. While the damnation of German Nazis and neo-Nazis is emphatic and swift, damnation of Islamic Nazis is tentative, hesitant, and laced with doubt. We see little focus by the mainstream media on this Islamic Nazi. No, I take that back. We find an ill-prepared Mike Wallace unable to ask the tough questions when he interviewed the thug-in-chief. This is not the way he’d interview Mel Gibson.

As Joel C. Rosenberg, says in the above article: “Iran is the new Germany. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the new Adolf Hitler. Radical Shiite Islamic jihadists are the new Nazi storm troopers. The pursuit of the Twelfth Imam is the pursuit of the new Third Reich. CBS News had both the opportunity and responsibility to help the world truly understand this regime and the danger it poses. It failed miserably, and we are all poorer for it.”

Few writers are as resolute as Rosenberg. Iran has been waging war against Israel and America for 27 years. Iranian operatives attacked Israel from Lebanon but their connection to Iran seemed to be a fact mentioned in passing. Where is the outrage proportional to the nature of this threat? Why does Mel Gibson and the Gaede twins elicit unequivocal and emphatic condemnations while the media is “watching curiously” Ahmadinejad, the Hitler-wannabe, as if they don’t know what to think about him?

What is missing is conceptual thought. Human knowledge is inherently conceptual in nature. We have the ability to see the similarities in different cases – to see that two distinct objects may be of one kind. It is this ability that enables us to bring to bear the knowledge gained in the past to the situation today. Santayana’s statement above, if not wrong, is woefully incomplete. Memory is useless without the concept that unites past experience to present dilemmas.

While a few on the right correctly see the parallels to the 1930s, the left is replete with pathetic excuses. “Iran is not a major industrial nation like Germany. They don’t even speak German. They haven’t invaded their neighboring countries nor have they killed millions of Jews. This isn’t Europe. There is no major capitalist class in Iran. Ahmadinejad is merely being religious like Bush. This is a very different situation.” In argument after argument, I’ve heard these and similar statements. If it isn’t exactly the same, there is no commonality.

No two situations will ever be exactly the same. They are similar in kind. The ability to think conceptually involves seeing the commonality of essence amidst the plethora of incidental (or what Aristotle calls ‘accidental’) attributes. Instead of principles, we’ve adopted the philosophy of Pragmatism.

Pragmatism is an American disposition that is highly suspicious of abstract concepts and time-tested generalities. Under the banner of “what works” it becomes a seat-of-the-pants trial-and-error process-centered non-ideology ideology. It is the antithesis of building well-establish concepts which can form the foundation for the future growth in our knowledge. I discussed how Pragmatism blinded us to the nature of communism in the Red Decade. It now blinds us to the Islamic threat. We can’t see the similarity between Islamic Nazism and German Nazism. We can’t even see the similarity within Islam that defines its essential core.

Thus we stand agog looking at a repeat of history unwilling to trust out eyes, unable to hear the alarm, and adamant in refusing to use our minds … until reality hits us in the face as it did in 1939 and 2001. Perhaps this is why many people say “we need another 9/11 or worse” before we act. If that’s true, we’ll get it. Quite frankly I prefer to learn from inference rather than harsh experience. We’ve had enough experience to draw the correct conclusions many times over. Now, let’s roll.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Remembering the Greatest Generation

Recently, I arranged for the burial of my uncle, who died at the age of 84 years. I was the only surviving relative who could physically attend his burial. He never married and had no children. My father, when he was alive, had great distain for his younger brother, who hadn’t held a steady job as long as I can remember. I didn’t have a personal relationship with him, indeed, I saw him only once in the last 30 years. Nevertheless, I knew there was one thing he did in his life that has to be honored. He fought in WWII and saw action in the European theatre. I made sure he received the honor of being buried in a Veteran's cemetery.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Islamic Revival

As the President retreats from the phrase, Islamic Fascists, let’s consider if that phrase fails not by being harsh but by not going far enough. Like Radical Islam, Fundamentalist Islam, and Militant Islam, these phrases suggest that there are different Islams. Prior terms, like extremists, fanatics, and heretics, suggest that the problem is a few who stray from the mainstream. Last year, I suggested that the term Islamic Revival accurately captures the religious and cultural changes in the Muslim world today. What is the nature of this revival?

During the century of colonial influence, Islam had atrophied into a ritualistic practice that was marginalized by the educated Westward-looking members of these societies. A confident West, triumphant in every realm and morally self-assured, appealed to the best minds in emerging nations while at the same time undermining backward stultifying traditions. The magnitude of this dynamic is evident by the abolition of the Caliphate.

Unfortunately, Muslim nations didn’t choose the liberal model best exemplified by the individualism of the Anglo-sphere but embraced the authoritarian regimes and totalitarian movements closer to Arab and Islamic dispositions. Eventually the failures of these regimes and the self-loathing in the multi-cultural West sparked a return to a vigorous practice of the original Islam. In origin, this is a totalitarian warrior ideology -- an imperialist supremacist creed.

This revival is sweeping the Islamic world. We first noticed its return in Iran followed by Taliban Afghanistan. It’s clear that Saudi Arabia is spear-heading the revival among Sunni Muslims with Iran achieving major successes in Southern Lebanon and among Palestinians. Let’s also remember that Algeria would have elected a fundamentalist regime if the military didn’t stop the elections. And Pakistan not only has the problem of Madrassahs but fundamentalism even pervades the government education system.

Egypt was long considered the most cosmopolitan and moderate of Islamic nations, which by having one of the largest Arab populations dominates Arab culture. Here, too, the Islamic Revival is becoming the dominant cultural force. Even the New York Times can no longer deny the trend. A recent article explains how "Islamism" has supplanted Arabism. The Arab defeat in 1967 was seen as “a punishment from God because we drifted far from the teachings of Islam” and the perceived defeat of Israel by Hezbollah a reaffirmation of the religion.

I argued that the Islamic attack of 9/11 was in essence a religious act reaffirming the religion and galvanizing the faithful. The religious nature of 9/11 was unimaginable to the Western mind. Now, however, even the Times is taking note of this dynamic. Or at least one writer (with a few Arab assistants) has started to notice. Have we finally overcome the politically correct prohibitions? Can we finally say that Islam is the problem?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The War with Islamic Fascists

President Bush remarks that we are “at war with Islamic fascists.” The New York Times is shocked, shocked at the language … making this a headline event.
Update1: the Times changed the headline and story of that link.
Update2: The Times finds the word “jihad” too frightening, claiming that the “approach — the language that goes with it — creates a trap for the administration.” Apparently, it won’t be a jihad if we don’t call it one! (Read the link before it changes!)
Update3: Daniel Pipes reviews the reaction to Bush’s rhetoric and suggests they are closer to “Islamic Communists.”. Still, he admits he can’t settle on a single term for the Islamic Revival.
Update4: Bush caves. (Hat tip: AOW)

Monday, August 07, 2006

But Before We're Banned ...

Thanks to my past readers and those who link to my blog, I now get about half of my traffic from search engines. For example, someone in Egypt found my article on Danish Cartoons by doing this search. Welcome and enjoy the cartoons. If you’re a Copt (10% of the population) I wouldn’t read this from the local library.

Some one in Malaysia wants to know my opinion about the feasibility of moderate Islam. I wish you luck, especially if you’re a Buddhist.

In Kuwait, a request for the “Islamic Revival” led to my blog entry explaining that Muslims don’t refer to the renewed interest in Islam as fundamentalism, radicalism, militancy, or any other Western term but just plain old simple Islam: it’s an Islamic Revival.

Enjoy Mo, Fatima, and Ahmed. We’re glad you know what we think about your religion. While you’re at it check out my most popular request: Root Cause.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

How Should We Fight?

The recent realization that Qana "atrocity" was a lie by Hezbollah will not reduce its importance to the “Arab Street.” In keeping with the so-called Jenin massacre and the death of “little Mo,” lies are an accepted way of life in the Arab world. Fantasy-play is a common phenomenon, often used as a substitute for reality. Rafael Patai explains this aspect of Arab culture in detail.

One of the side-effects of exposing lies like Qana, is that our side concedes main principles while arguing minor details.

Hezbollah’s desire to wipe the Jews off the map, led them to attack Israel. By their nature and actions, they are responsible for the death and destruction in Lebanon including the civilians they put in harms way. Israel, to reduce civilian casualties, drops leaflets warning of impending bombings--enabling Hezbollah to escape and regroup. Implicit in this mistaken generosity is that it is Israel’s responsibility to avoid Hezbollah-supporting “civilians.” It is not. Israel has no obligation to avoid civilian deaths in the course of fighting the enemy if it cost Israeli lives or compromises the mission.

This point is now lost as defenders of Israel focus on proving that Israel is not negligent in the deaths at Qana. This should not be a question. But in a polemical argument, it is tempting to show that even by our critic's standards, they are wrong. One should resist showing respect for the absurd standards of our critics, even for a moment. To do so concedes fundamental principles.

Israel, and her allies, should take the opposite tactic and unequivocally blame Hezbollah for bringing vast death and destruction to the people of Lebanon. At all times one should say: “look at what Hezbollah caused.” Israel should tell the “Arab Street” if you attack us like Hezbollah, you’ll see your families crushed and your tribe destroyed. We should back her in this stance. It should be clear in every sentence that Hezbollah is to blame for the war and its deadly destruction.

Ben Stein understands this issue and goes even further (hat tip:

"It is very much as if, after Pearl Harbor, after the bombing of London, we said, "We will fight the Japanese and the Nazis, but we will only use humane means, and we will show total restraint and will never kill civilians. And we will search our souls and agonize about every move." It is this attitude that kept the United States from winning in Korea, in Vietnam, and now in Iraq. If we had followed that code of suicide, we would have lost World War II and the world would have been plunged into eternal darkness."

Actually, we wavered when we fought Japan. In March 10th and 11th 1945, we fire-bombed Tokyo and killed an equal number of civilians as we later killed in Hiroshima. Our intelligence failed to pick-up any concern by Japanese leaders; we discontinued the practice. Subsequently, we dropped leaflets warning of impending attacks on military and industrial targets despite the protests of our pilots that it would put them at risk. To our enemy, who had no qualms about killing Chinese and Korean civilians, we appeared weak. It was only when we returned to targeting civilians in August, using two atomic bombs, did the Japanese surrender. Did we endure five months of casualties needlessly? It's a question I'd like answered. It does, however raise the important question about how to fight a savage enemy. Mr. Stein answers as follows:

"You cannot fight inhumane people with humane means. You cannot fight savages with one hand -- no, two hands -- tied behind your back. No wars were ever won using restraint and only civilized means. That's a formula for complete defeat and for the end of civilized life. If we allow our media and French intellectuals to prevent us and the Israelis from using the means necessary to win, we'll lose...in Lebanon, in Iraq, and everywhere and this civilization is very well worth preserving. Yes, as sad as it would be to use terror tactics to win a war, it would be incomparably worse to lose. At the end of the war we win, there is light. At the end of the war we lose, there is the end."

Will we have to fight today's enemy using means appropriate to the nature of our Islamic enemy? Or can we still maintain military standards developed in the context of fighting conscripted armies of European nation-states? This issue is being discussed among the writers at National Review. John Podhoretz writing in the New York Post asks the following question:

“Are we becoming unwitting participants in their victory and our defeat? Can it be that the moral greatness of our civilization - its astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all - is endangering the future of our civilization as well?”

Continuing on the NR blog, Podhoretz explains that we could clearly beat the enemy into submission by resorting to their methods:

“… in 1982, in Hama, Hafez al-Assad wiped out an uprising against his regime by slaughtering 25,000 over a weekend. And in 1991, Saddam Hussein took down the Shiite uprising with similar viciousness. The idea that such monstrous tactics don't work is ludicrous. They do work. But I think it's fair to say that we would rather our civilization die than that we commit such acts.”

John Derbyshire quotes that last sentence and answers, “Speak for yourself, Sir.” He explains that a culture-changing victory, as in WWII, may require methods similar to that war:

"That is not a conclusion that sits very easily on the civilized conscience. Outside the context of “crisis war,” it is certainly not one we are currently willing to act on. Our will to act on it within that context, though, is surprisingly robust. I spent my childhood surrounded by men—Christian men, good family men—who had helped to level Germany’s great cities and slaughter German civilians in the hundreds of thousands by area bombing. I never once heard any of those men express the slightest word of guilt or shame about their deeds. When they talked about the war, it was to tell personal anecdotes, or to complain about their military and political superiors.

Even just a few months ago, in fact, I found myself sitting at dinner next to an elderly man who had flown in the great fire-bombing raids of WWII. Did he or his comrades feel any shame or guilt? I asked. No, he said, the subject never came up. It never came up. As he explained: “There was a war to win.”"

What are we willing to do to insure victory? Does it depend on the foe, the stage of the war, the degree of our suffering, etc.? Or are there limits no matter what the consequences to our survival, as Podhoretz holds? The question is worth discussing in general but it is clear that Israel, and the rest of the world, shows a bizarre over-concern for an enemy that would finish Hitler's work in a heartbeat if it had the power.

Update: Ralph Peters has some thoughts on how Israel should fight.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Assuming Responsibility Unreasonably

A few myths worth putting to rest: Did the US prevent Iran from being a democracy by supporting a coup in 1953? Read Prof. Rummel’s answer. Did the US overthrow the Allende government in Chile? Read Jose Pinera’s answer.

Both of these historical issues are important today. I believe it is to repudiate and make amends for these allegations that drove, in part, our government to attempt to construct a liberal democracy in Iraq despite all the indigenous cultural and religious traditions hostile to such an institution.