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Radical cleric

Who will rid me of al-Sadr?

The BBC reports:

Radical Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr is currently in Iran, an adviser to the Iraqi prime minister has said.

We see an awful lot of the description radical cleric these days. It certainly has a more exotic frisson than, say, turbulent priest. Should we espy a hint of orientalism in the fact that contemporary figures of western Christianity or Judaism are much less often called “clerics” by the media? (Of course, “cleric” and “clergy”, via Old French and Latin for “clerkship”, originally denoted members of the English Catholic orders.) As Sourcewatch points out: “Martin Luther King, Jr. could reasonably be described as a ‘radical cleric’ of Christianity.” But he is not often so described.1 Is there even in our contemporary use of “cleric” an implicit denial of legitimacy? If the media will grant other religious figures their own titles, such as vicar, priest, or rabbi, why do they not refer to al-Sadr’s title as that of “Hojatoleslam” or “Scholar of Islam”? (Perhaps there is only any appetite for adopting those Arabic terms that reinforce the impression of Islam as frightening.)

And what of “radical”? Etymologically it means having to do with roots. So is a “radical” someone who wants to go back to his roots – in which case “radical cleric” might be synonymous with “fundamentalist” – or someone who wants to change things at the very root? It is a similar inbuilt ambiguity to that present in the word “reform”, discussed in Unspeak. OED even notes the pleasingly complex, in some way paradoxical, term “radical reform”, first used as long ago as 1786 and gleefully exploited in recent times by Tony Blair and especially Gordon Brown.2

In some cases thereafter “radical” could still mean “inherent in the nature or essence of a thing or person” or “original, primary”. So William James’s “radical empiricism” meant empiricism that went all the way down, taking nothing for granted. Nowadays, Ted Honderich’s theory of consciousness, “Radical Externalism“, appears to partake of both senses simultaneously: it is radical because it argues that consciousness is fundamentally not confined to your head; but it is also radical because it breaks with much tradition in the philosophy of mind.

But in political terms, “radical” eventually came to indicate, in OED‘s sense 3d, “any thorough political and social change [emphasis added]“; and then, even more generally (3e): “Characterized by independence of, or departure from, what is usual or traditional; progressive, unorthodox, or revolutionary (in outlook, conception, design, etc.).” Naturally, this raises the question of who is the guardian of what is considered orthodox, and thus of what is, by contrast, “radical”.

In our day, I would argue, “radical” is mainly a more or less vacant intensifier. It specifies nothing more than does “extreme” or “extremist”: it all depends on where you draw your implicit spectrum so as to place yourself in the orthodox or “moderate” centre. That “radical” is on its own an impoverished or void boo-word seems to be, at least, a lesson internalised by Christopher Hitchens, who in a piquantly vain effort of semantic amplification was recently driven to write of the “extreme radical evil” of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (yes, he is still banging on about that dead murderer and official bogeyman). Gosh, not just radical evil but extreme radical evil. How much more evil can you get? None more evil.3

So in the widely current phrase “radical cleric”,4 we have one word that does no more than express comparative distaste, and a second word that appears to be largely reserved in current usage for scholars of Islam in particular. The phrase thus is used to mean “an Islamic person of whom we disapprove, who claims some form of religious authority or expertise about which we are ignorant or of whose legitimacy we are sceptical”. It’s a shame that there is no discernible echo of the alternative sense of “radical”, stemming from 1960s surf culture, to mean cool. A skateboarding Koranic commentator would make for a pleasing counterbalance in the news.

  1. Although in regard to another self-identifying Christian, Josh Marshall and atrios, among others, have offered the usage “radical cleric Pat Robertson”, which is amusing, but perpetuates the phrase’s implication of enmity, thus in a way reinforcing the “normal” loaded usage.
  2. As I pointed out in my review of Brown’s collected speeches.
  3. It strikes me belatedly that perhaps not everyone has seen This Is Spinal Tap. Well, you should.
  4. Thanks to SW for drawing it to my attention.
79 comments
  1. 1  Richard  February 16, 2007, 1:55 pm 

    From “scholar” to “cleric” seems like a pretty big slippage; the argument has often been posed that Islam has nothing analogous to the priesthood of Christianity, and likewise Christian-descended cultures have no adequate terms for dealing with the various kinds of Islamic scholarship, competence or authority.

    But calling him a cleric, or better yet, a wild-eyed mullah, certainly seems to chime with the rest of the rhetoric about him rather more than, say, “jurist.”

  2. 2  Neil  February 16, 2007, 2:50 pm 

    Your final line reminded me of this, from The Onion:
    http://www.theonion.com/conten.....extremists

    BAGHDAD—Extremist board-trick crew Al-J’Aqasse, the Middle East’s most prominent Islamic radical snowboard posse, is taking full props for destroying the American embassy when a member nailed a goofyfoot 720 nosehook from a security-barrier railgrind into its offices while carrying 25 kilos of C4 plastic explosives, Thrashzeera magazine reported Tuesday.

    “In the name of Allah the Merciful, this rad shit is off the hook, yo! Death to the great Satan!” Al-J’Aqasse members shouted in a videotaped, System Of A Down–soundtracked statement posted on the magazine’s website, which is denouncing the bombing as “totally sick and twizted.”

    “Satan! Satan! Satan! Al-J’Aqasse blowing up across the M-E!” one member added.

    American security is not certain how Al-J’Aqasse was allowed to build their custom snowpipe-ramp setup across the street from the embassy, but banners and promotional materials scattered across the blast zone point to the involvement of radical, extreme-sports-beverage bottler Sunni Delight.

  3. 3  Steven  February 16, 2007, 5:22 pm 

    Ah, the Onion as usual got there first and much more funnily…

    Richard’s suggestion of “jurist” is eye-opening, I think.

  4. 4  Jeff Strabone  February 16, 2007, 7:03 pm 

    As the Onion beat Steve to the punchline, so Richard beat me to my point. There simply is no English term that captures the range of people who occupy—or presume—positions of leadership in the study of Islamic doctrine and jurisprudence. The Unspoken phrase ‘radical cleric’ is at least preferable to ‘mad mullah’.

    Nor would it do to call every pretender to the qualification a ‘jurist’ or ‘alim’. Muhammad Umar, the leader of the Taliban, was a country bumpkin with no apparent knowledge of Islamic law. As for Muqtada Sadr’s implied claims of scholarship, does he seem like an intellectual to you? And that troglodyte Osama bin Ladin has about as much right to issue fatwas as I do papal bulls, and I’m not even Catholic.

    What then is a conscientious wielder of language to do? The best solution is nothing: we need not be concerned in our writing with people’s claims to title. All we need to do is frame our own understandings of people’s actions and question the received wisdom. Let’s leave the wisdom to the clerical class.

  5. 5  Steven  February 16, 2007, 8:03 pm 

    As for Muqtada Sadr’s implied claims of scholarship, does he seem like an intellectual to you?

    Well, I didn’t claim that he was an “intellectual”; I’m merely pointing out what is apparently al-Sadr’s official academic title (according to Wikipedia), which point has not much to do with whatever other qualifications might or might not be enjoyed by other people such as Muhammad Umar or OBL. It happens that many people in the western academic establishment call themselves “Professors” or “scholars” and don’t seem to me like intellectuals either, but that doesn’t mean I deny their claim to the title and adopt an abusive phrase to describe them instead. (Well, I may adopt abusive phrases for their work.)

    What then is a conscientious wielder of language to do? The best solution is nothing: we need not be concerned in our writing with people’s claims to title.

    I’m not sure what you mean. You mean we should just ignore the prejudicial use of the phrase “radical cleric”? Or that you don’t think it’s that prejudicial (not as bad, as you say, as “mad mullah”), and so not really worth bothering about?

  6. 6  ozma  February 16, 2007, 8:36 pm 

    A boring suggestion: Religious leader.

    Many journalists cannot make distinctions between different types of Muslim religious leaders. They don’t know enough about Islam. (They don’t seem willing to learn either. But it might not be easy knowledge to just pick up.)

    There are some problems with religious leader even from the standpoint of neutrality of connotation (is that possible from the unspeak perspective). But what I think would make journalists reluctant to use ‘religious leader’ regularly is that it denotes legitimacy. Also, the whole worship of leadership cult doesn’t want ‘leader’ applied to anyone they don’t admire.

  7. 7  Jeff Strabone  February 16, 2007, 8:45 pm 

    I see that I may have been too succinct. Although I am a conscientious wielder of the impersonal pronoun ‘one’, I did not mean you, Steve, when I asked, ‘does he seem like an intellectual to you?’ My main point was that it’s fairly easy to call oneself a ‘cleric’ or ‘mullah’ or ‘shaykh’ because titles in Islamic cultures are more consensual and self-styled than in the West where similar titles are almost always backed by institutional credentialization, not that that makes them more legitimate. But we don’t have to call people anything if we don’t want to.

    Sadr’s belligerent obscurantism makes me reluctant to call him a ‘jurist’ or ‘scholar’ because, institution or no institution, I am not prepared to acknowledge every Tom, Dick, and Muqtada as a scholar just because they say so. Newt Gingrich, incredibly, has a PhD, but I’ll be damned before I call him scholar, doctor, or professor.

    Some of this is getting lost in translation. The Arabic word most in question here is ‘alim’, spelled ain-lam-yah-mim. The Wehr-Cowan Arabic-English dictionary translates this word as ‘knowing, cognizant, informed; learned, erudite’, and it is also a title. It comes from the root ain-lam-mim, which means knowledge, intellect, learning etc. And that is why I asked whether he looks like an intellectual to you?

    I agree that ‘radical cleric’ is an empty term, hence my designation of it as ‘Unspoken’, i.e. an element of Unspeak.

    Finally, I do generally avoid titles before names. When I refer to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, I don’t call them ‘Reverend Robertson’ and ‘Reverend Falwell’. The same goes for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, also ordained Americans. Titles endorse the appearance of authority, and I’m all about questioning both appearance and authority, as I know you are, too, Professor Poole.

  8. 8  Jeff Strabone  February 16, 2007, 8:51 pm 

    Ozam’s suggestion of ‘religious leader’ is probably the best option if we accept ‘leader’ to mean, simply, one who has followers. We can all agree that Muqtada Sadr and Muhammad Umar have followers and that they lead on the basis of religion.

  9. 9  Andrew Kenneally  February 16, 2007, 8:52 pm 

    I wonder what would radical Christian Pat Robertson, the type calling for assassination of Chavez, make of Love your Enemies/Turn t’other cheek Christian Jesus? And what kind of Christian is Jesus? Call me eccentric but I’d see the Robertsons, Bushes, Blairs as examples of those who accepted the temptation offered Jesus by Satan in the wilderness. You know, where all the kingdoms of the world is offered if only one is prepared to bow down and worship the demonic one. Legend of the Grand Inquisitor and all that.

  10. 10  Jeff Strabone  February 16, 2007, 8:54 pm 

    Apologies, Ozma, for the typographical error.

  11. 11  Jeff Strabone  February 16, 2007, 9:14 pm 

    Before the flood of objections, I see that I have still been too succinct. No, of course, not all titles in all Islamic societies are consensual. Generally speaking, they’re more consensual than in the West. Shia societies, in particular, have distinct religious ranks like ayatallah and hujjat al-Islam (‘hojatoislam’ in American newspapers).

  12. 12  Steven  February 16, 2007, 9:17 pm 

    The Arabic word most in question here is ‘alim’, spelled ain-lam-yah-mim.

    The specific Arabic word for the title claimed by or for al-Sadr, as I pointed out in the post and at #5, is “Hojatoleslam”. Whether that title is properly owed to him is a factual question, just as it is a factual question whether some other bearded dude has been awarded a chair at Cambridge and so may be called Professor; in neither case is the title itself subject to the whim of whether I or anyone else thinks he “looks like an intellectual”.

    I do like Ozma’s suggestion of “religious leader”, though also he has a point when he says it might carry an implication of legitimacy in which western media organizations may be loath to acquiesce.

  13. 13  Steven  February 16, 2007, 9:19 pm 

    Shia societies, in particular, have distinct religious ranks like ayatallah and hujjat al-Islam (’hojatoislam’ in American newspapers).

    This is rather the point in what I have been writing about al-Sadr, Wikipedia’s “Hojatoleslam” being another variant of the latter. (I posted #12 before I saw your #11.)

  14. 14  Jeff Strabone  February 16, 2007, 9:24 pm 

    Ah, then we were blogging at cross purposes for I was all along responding to Richard’s suggestion that ‘jurist’ or ‘scholar’ would change things a bit from ‘cleric’. ‘Jurist’ and ‘scholar’ are both adequate translations of ‘alim’, but I would not call Sadr a valid jurist or a scholar.

    True, that Muqtada Sadr apparently holds the awarded title of hojatoislam is a factual question. The points left to individual discrimination are whether to accept every claimant’s pretentions to be learned and whether we need to include titles before people’s names when the subject is anything other than their official titles.

    On these points we can probably agree.

  15. 15  Steven  February 16, 2007, 10:34 pm 

    I would not call Sadr a valid jurist or a scholar.

    Well, given that he apparently does hold the title of Hojatoleslam, on what grounds have you decided that he is not a “valid scholar”? Is it cos I is a radical cleric?

    whether we need to include titles before people’s names when the subject is anything other than their official titles

    I can agree that we don’t need to do that. But the fact that we don’t need to call al-Sadr “Hojatoleslam” every time we mention him does not itself mean that it is wrong to call him a scholar, although it might indeed be beside the point in the context of most current media reports about him.

    “Dr”s Rice and Kissinger also come to mind. Perhaps we are obliged, however, to make an exception for the Doctor, as he doesn’t have any other name.

  16. 16  abb1  February 16, 2007, 10:43 pm 

    The religious angle is trivial: everybody over there is a member of the clergy. It’s like being a college graduate. No, clearly he’s a political leader or leader of a movement. Like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

  17. 17  Alex Higgins  February 16, 2007, 11:42 pm 

    “The desperation was most apparent when Bill Kristol went on Fox News and expressed his rage that Democrats and other war opponents “can’t be quiet for six or nine months.” The very notion that Americans have some sort of obligation to heed Kristol’s demand to be silent while he pushes on with his war is audacious and radical beyond words.”

    That comes from the most recent post by Glenn Greenwald – whom i admire and like a lot.

    It’s interesting (to me at least) that he often uses the word radical in a wholly negative sense, as a criticism of the assault on the US constitution and liberal ideas by the Bush administration and the authoritarian not-very-conservative movement.

    I’m reminded of A-level history classes where Members of Parliament critical of King Charles I constantly stressed his “innovation” over their commitment to traditional liberties within the English political constitution. Protestant reformers did a similar thing during the Reformation, accusing the mediaeval Church of ‘innovation’, essentially ‘radicalism’ in religion.

    And they could all make a good case, but by using the word radical against their opponents, it unspoke any suggestion that they themselves were doing something quite new (like overthowing the monarchy), justified or not.

    Thoughts?

  18. 18  Andrew Kenneally  February 17, 2007, 1:07 am 

    I presume there’s a good chance Steven is familiar with the writings of Leo Strauss, the philosophical father of the neo-cons like Billy “the shit” Kristol. A philosophy that believes ordinary humanity to be inherently evil and worthy of being deceived by their superior masters. Charming stuff anyway.
    http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2.....arperBush/

  19. 19  Steven  February 17, 2007, 2:50 am 

    Re the Greenwald passage: I can’t see that there is much “radical”, in the sense of new or departing from longstanding political tradition, in Kristol’s demand that his opponents shut up. People have been telling their opponents to shut up for ever.

    And with all this, we can also note that thinkers of variously “postmodern” stylings (if I may loosely use that term) often still congratulate themselves on being “radical” in their analyses.

    (And yes, Strauss has popped up here now and again.)

  20. 20  Richard  February 17, 2007, 5:41 am 

    My suggestion of “jurist” was a little tongue-in-cheek. Even though some Anglophone scholars have used the term in a strictly disciplined sense, a large number of others have felt free to bandy it around for anyone who claims knowledge of Islamic law or any kind of normative authority. I was making the modest point that, while it’s at least as valid a term as ‘cleric,’ it carries very different connotations in Anglo-American legal contexts.

    I personally am fairly ignorant of 20th/21st century Iranian (or Iraqi) norms for this stuff; I’m afraid my education, following that of my teachers, has rather fetishised the first few centuries of the Islamicate, to the detriment of later history. This (I think) is a large and under-discussed problem underlying a lot of scholarship and opinion found in the West regarding the Islamic world and current situations; professors in Western universities tend to be more concerned with how the Islamic world ought to be, not with how it actually is.

  21. 21  Richard  February 17, 2007, 5:46 am 

    Steven – you very neatly allude to an idea that I think helps a lot, both with contemporary Islam and the Bush administration: that fundamentalism is concerned with getting down to the roots of the creed and changing them – it’s aimed at reconfiguring the most basic tenets of an institution (usually a religion) while claiming that it’s defending them against corruption, or modern innovation. Do you have more to say on this topic?

  22. 22  Steven  February 17, 2007, 2:09 pm 

    Not much more – in that, absent deep scholarship of the various fundaments in question, I must leave it to others to judge whether those fundaments are being restored or changed. But I did think the second possibility was worth pointing out, since it adds something to what I had written in passing about “fundamentalism” in Unspeak the book, when noting that it appeared to have been replaced most recently by “extremism”:

    Not only is ‘extremist’ much more flexible in its application, it also gets around the possible problem that to call someone a ‘fundamentalist’ is to acknowledge that he has some kind of foundation, which is to say that his actions do not just derive from some arbitrary evil. Especially if he goes on to claim that his foundation is a holy book, it becomes difficult to denounce him other than by saying that your holy book is better than his. [p221]

    Which I think still applies; but the extra possibility that the “fundamentalist” is unspeaking his own “radicalism” – and that, indeed, for the media to call him a “fundamentalist” is to acquiesce in that same unspeaking, to allow him his mask of righteousness – is, as you say, important and perhaps illuminating.

  23. 23  Jeff Strabone  February 17, 2007, 6:20 pm 

    Such people should only be called ‘fundamentalist’ if we intend the OED’s definition 3a of ‘fundament’:

    3. a. The lower part of the body, on which one sits; the buttocks; also, the orifice of the intestines, the anus. In birds, the vent.

  24. 24  The Learned Jurist SW  February 17, 2007, 6:59 pm 

    This has been a fascinating thread, although I would dispute #7, that “radical cleric” is an “empty term” – it is packed with notions of commonality and modernity, as has been discussed.

    The issue of titles has come up; of course, “radical cleric” is specifically not a title nor a translation of one, but an act of unspeak, which has been lazily promulgated throughout the press, from the BBC to the New York Times, National Public Radio to Fox.

    In terms of titles, Snr. Jeff Strabone wrote:

    titles in Islamic cultures are more consensual and self-styled than in the West where similar titles are almost always backed by institutional credentialization, not that that makes them more legitimate.

    Well, while accepting that any title can be bought, forged, feigned, or bestowed upon an ill-deserving buffoon, the purpose of “institutional credentialization” is to bestow legitimacy upon these titles, insofar as the title can then be traced to certain criteria and standards, which are supposedly available to anybody who looks. The problem of titles becomes particularly apparent when we do not know how an institution works or dispsenses with titles. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson may not require titles for those familiar with them, but a brief description of their formal position within Church hierarchies, captured in a title, would hardly be unwarranted in a piece that was quoting them. Now that the Episcopalian Church is bravely, but probably vainly, seeking to change the so-called Anglican Community by electing gay and female bishops, one sees all sorts of quotes from various members of the clergy: I find it useful knowing whether the quoted person is in fact affiliated with the clergy, and how high he or she is up in the hierarchy.

    As another example of the usefulness of titles, whenever I read articles in the press about, say, advanced applied mathematics, I would rather read the opinion of Professor Ingrid Swale of Harvard University than Janitor Will Hunting of Harvard University, right? Well, maybe that’s a bad example. But the point is, those of us who use such terms as “IANAL” concede that certain institutional credentials suggest an expertise before which we should not necessarily bow deferentially, but to which we owe some cautious (if not begrudging) respect.

    Thank you for bringing up “Dr”s Kissinger and Rice! Is it not interesting that two Secretaries of State who are overseeing diplomacy in eras of astounding ham-handed American belligerence and clumsiness should take the erudite titles of “Doctor”? And is it not interesting that Kissinger, in the sweating, anti-Semitic environment of Nixon’s White House, and Rice, in the White Collar and Back-slapping racism of Bush’s White House, should be the two Secretaries of State who demand the respect and dignity afforded the “doctor”? Or maybe they are just alone amongst recent secretaries of state in being “Dr”s? Madeleine Albright and George Schultz also had PhDs; Warren Christopher, Cyrus Vance and James Baker were doctors of law . . . and I do not remember hearing them commonly referred to as “Doctor”. (Research here courtesy of, sigh, wikipedia)

  25. 25  Andrew Kenneally  February 17, 2007, 8:46 pm 

    But don’t we all have to stand strong together, holding hands in a manly way, and refuse to be cowed, while watching Strictly Come Dancing in our home-made nuclear bunkers, by the ever-present threat of Islamofascism?

  26. 26  Steven  February 18, 2007, 1:01 am 

    I always suspected SW was a Learned Jurist, but didn’t know that Jeff was a Señor, or Senior, or Supernova.

    Is it actually Rice who insists on her title or is it other worshipful Republicans who insist on referring to her as “Dr”? It might be unfair to lump her in with Kissinger in that respect (perhaps only in that respect).

    Meanwhile, I find it fascinating how surgeons call themselves “Mr”, revalorizing that most common of appellations to distinguish themselves from all the common-or-garden but nonetheless actual “Dr”s.

  27. 27  sw  February 18, 2007, 1:25 am 

    I also don’t know whether or not Rice has crafted her status as a “Dr”; but the similarities with the Kissinger situation are striking. I do not get the impression that Rice is discouraging this use of “Dr”.

    As for surgeons calling themselves “Mr”, or “Ms”: this has such a lengthy history that it hardly counts as an attempt by surgeons to distinguish “themselves from all the common-or-garden” doctors. It comes from a time when physicians went to medical school and could earn doctorates, while surgeons went to the mediaeval equivalent of hairdressing and cosmetics school, and hence could be Masters (or “Mister”) but not earn doctorates. Because physicians earn Bachelors of Medicine and Masters of Surgery and need not actually attain doctorates, your friendly GP or surgeons may not actually become “Doctors of Medicine”, though by consensus, they will still be called “Doctor”. (Anybody who knows better on this topic is free to explain it in more detail and to correct me. Frankly, I don’t believe in credentialling, and so I don’t worry about what my surgeon is “called” or where he went to “school” – it’s just another title, just another piece of paper.)

  28. 28  Steven  February 18, 2007, 2:07 am 

    I do not get the impression that Rice is discouraging this use of “Dr”.

    Isn’t this rather as if I were to say: “I do not get the impression that you are not a wife-beater”?

    Thank you for the information on surgeons’ “Mr”. Though, to speak personally, I might worry if my surgeon, or even yours, really had no credentials at all.

  29. 29  sw  February 18, 2007, 2:37 am 

    Yes, quite so; it would hardly be fair to expect Rice, when testifying before the Senate, to say, ‘Really, Senator Snowe, I prefer not be called “Doctor”.’ So – this brings up another issue, and here it really is getting personal with Rice: is there a gender issue? Are some uncomfortable calling her “Madame Secretary of State”? Frankly, whether or not Rice likes it or has cultivated this title, the reminder of Kissinger is apt.

  30. 30  Jeff Strabone  February 18, 2007, 6:34 am 

    The Learned Jurist of no. 24 makes a sound point:

    ‘the purpose of “institutional credentialization” is to bestow legitimacy upon these titles, insofar as the title can then be traced to certain criteria and standards, which are supposedly available to anybody who looks.’

    Where such institutional practices exist, so be it. However, conceding the somewhat special case of high Shia ranks, there simply are no standards of accreditation to which competencies and pedagogies of Islamic law around the world can conform. Anyone who completes an education anywhere in Islamic law is entitled to be called a jurist/cleric/whatever (let’s not open up the nomenclature discussion again), regardless of how little academic rigor their schooling required. At Western universities, one studies religion or divinity by comparative and historical methods. This is not the case in the vast majority of comparable institutions in Muslim countries. One would be better off enrolling at the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard.

    And the situation is infinitely worse at the primary school level of Islamic learning. At madrasas in non-Arabophone countries around the world, like Afghanistan, it is typically the case that boys are taught to memorize the Qur’an in Arabic despite the fact that they and their teachers don’t speak or read Arabic. Yes, there is a deep intellectual crisis in Islamic learning in much of the world. I say this not in accusation but in earnest regret.

  31. 31  Jeff Strabone  February 18, 2007, 6:40 am 

    And for the record, it’s Supernova.

  32. 32  Graham Giblin  February 18, 2007, 9:34 am 

    Excuse the interruption but sometimes the appellation “Dr” suggests something less than the family qualities of your friendly GP, as of course with Dr Kissinger. I had sudden visions of Dr Mengele and Dr Strangelove. Perhaps “Dr” Rice fits neatly in this group.

    BTW on the subject of the Mister Doctors, it is my understanding that surgeons are more fiercely ambitous to discard the “Dr” than they were to achieve it. Their “Mr” then takes on a bright and shiny and superior aura as distinguished from your common as muck brown-paper mister. And of course that gives them licence to charge a great deal more.

  33. 33  Steven  February 18, 2007, 2:30 pm 

    conceding the somewhat special case of high Shia ranks

    Well, if I may insist, Supernova Strabone, the “somewhat special case” is precisely the case of al-Sadr, and the subject of this post. I am still interested in understanding why you insist that he is not a “valid scholar”. Is it because you consider use of the word “scholar” to imply approval? Will you only agree to call people “scholars” if you agree with their political opinions?

  34. 34  Jeff Strabone  February 18, 2007, 6:41 pm 

    Violence is the opposite of scholarship.

    In his autobiography, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote of how the activities of lynch mobs in the States influenced the path of his career. What he said has stayed with me since I encountered it in college:

    ‘At the very time when my studies were most successful, there cut across this plan which I had as a scientist, a red ray which could not be ignored. I remember when it first, as it were, startled me to my feet….The news met me: Sam Hose had been lynched, and they said that his knuckles were on exhibition at a grocery store….I began to turn aside from my work….One could not be a calm, cool, and detached scientist while Negroes were lynched, murdered, and starved.’

    (Please pardom potential inaccuracies. My copy of the book is in storage, so I have had to find the excerpt online.)

    Allow me to expand on what Du Bois said. One cannot remain a detached scientist, scholar, or cleric under such conditions, and when do such conditions not obtain? But commitment need not produce less rigorous or less reliable work than detachment. Indeed, a commitment to justice should drive true intellectuals to even higher standards of methodological rigor because they know what they are doing matters and needs to be done right in order to be credible and persuasive in a hostile world.

    But let’s look at Du Bois’s statement another way. If one cannot remain a detached scholar while Negroes—or Sunnis or gay Shias or whoever—are being lynched, then certainly one can claim to be no scholar or jurist or anything but a criminal while one is leading the lynching oneself or using one’s rhetorical and intellectual powers to provoke the violence. And for this reason—the performance of violence against one’s enemies, let alone the designation of group enemies itself—Muqtada Sadr is no scholar.

  35. 35  Steven  February 18, 2007, 7:15 pm 

    So in your view he is not justified in claiming to be any kind of jurist or scholar of Islamic law, despite having the institutionally recognised title of Scholar of Islam, because under your interpretation of law he is a “criminal”? Is that it? Is that your interpretation of Islamic law or something like “natural” law? It seems to me as though you have answered my question in the affirmative, using “scholar” to mean “scholar with the correct political opinions”. Personally I am rather sympathetic to this usage, too, as in “a scholar and a gentleman”, but we should at least recognise that this is how we are using the word.

    To go back to the question of institutional validation:

    At Western universities, one studies religion or divinity by comparative and historical methods. This is not the case in the vast majority of comparable institutions in Muslim countries. One would be better off enrolling at the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard.

    I suppose in this respect Muslim education is comparable to the lamentable state of English literature studies before they were thankfully professionalized in the 20th century. For the longest time until then, any idiot – say, Philip Sydney or “Dr” Johnson – could claim to be a literary critic, and one simply had no good way of knowing whether they were or not.

  36. 36  dsquared  February 18, 2007, 8:27 pm 

    [Is it actually Rice who insists on her title or is it other worshipful Republicans who insist on referring to her as “Dr”? ]

    Yes I think it is; I seem to remember it being mentioned in a number of early profiles of her – specifically in the context of the large number of pundits who thought they were acting all cool and in-the-loop by calling her “Condi”.

    I think Jeff has something of a point; as far as I understand it, it would be wrong to call Sadr a “scholar” because he owes his academic title to success in the outside world, rather than in the academy. It’s a bit like Gordon Brown, who has about a dozen honorary economics PhDs being referred to as an “economist”.

  37. 37  Steven  February 18, 2007, 8:51 pm 

    Aha, thanks – well, if his title is merely honorary, conferred in approval of his successes in the fields of violence and demagoguery, then I see no residual reason to refer to him as a scholar either.

    And sw will be thankful to hear that I will no longer seek to make any gross distinction between “Dr”s Rice and Kissinger.

  38. 38  Andrew Kenneally  February 18, 2007, 8:59 pm 

    Although, Steven, presumably virtually anyone could with justification claim to be a literary critic, provided, that is, that they do indulge in a little literary criticism. It doesn’t require the quality of the criticism to be of any merit. I’m pretty sceptical of the idea that one must fit certain criteria within certain times to be deserving of a certain label such as scholar. I can be surrounded by rape, pillage, Black Death, starvation, and yet in my garret be obsessively devoted to mathematics, virtually oblivious to the tumults around me.

  39. 39  Jeff Strabone  February 18, 2007, 9:45 pm 

    I think Andrew misses my point. The point was not about detachment. The point is quite stark: Muqtada Sadr is a violent man. He directs his followers to perform acts of wanton and sectarian violence. Whatever intellectual training he has he uses in the service of violence, fascism, and everything that scholarship opposes. Yes, Steve, let the word ‘scholarship’ mean something positive, decent, and humane.

    As for Sadr’s attaining the title of hojatoislam, so be it. But his conduct demonstrates that he is not a thoughtful man.

    Steve’s comparison to ‘Dr.’ Johnson nicely brings together the various branches of this comment thread, although I think he overstated the case a bit. Any idiot can still claim to be a literary critic. The rest I find quite apt. Yes, Johnson had no claim to official doctordom. And yes, the study of English at the university level has only recently become rigorous. (Let us ignore for now John Guillory’s critique of the fetishization of rigor in Cultural Capital. I am using the word more loosely than that.) As late as the 1820′s, English philology was still dominated by antiquarianism and a pseudo-philosophy grounded in folk etymology. I like the comparison quite a lot.

  40. 40  Andrew Kenneally  February 18, 2007, 9:59 pm 

    Well, I do admit to a virtaul total ignorance here regarding Sadr and most else of relevant particular detail so I’m trying to grasp what I can. If scholar is a label of convenience designed to instil legitimacy on this man, then it is right to be questioned. I still, however, am sceptical as to scholar necessarily implying virtuous qualities. I could be an expert scholar of Aleister Crowley and Satanism, for very unhealthy reasons. Though in favour of Jeff’s angle, scholar does seem to imply an open-minded interest in knowledge. I dunno; can a line be drawn between student and scholar, or are we trying to mould language to fit our desires?

  41. 41  Jeff Strabone  February 18, 2007, 10:04 pm 

    The ‘relevant particular detail’, Andrew, is that Sadr is a killer. Killers have blood on their hands; scholars have ink on their hands.

    Are we ‘trying to mould language to fit our desires’? Isn’t that what language is for?

  42. 42  Andrew Kenneally  February 18, 2007, 10:25 pm 

    No Jeff, that is presumably much of the point of Steven’s site. We obviously use language to convey meaning but we are not supposed to abuse words wilfully so as to fit agendas.

  43. 43  sw  February 18, 2007, 11:01 pm 

    Didn’t Althusser have both blood and ink on his hands? Were there not traces of a stain more damning than ink under Heidegger’s fingernails? Perhaps – but the real question is: is their work then implicated? Is it then not possible that the same questions could be asked of Sadr? And if anybody would countenance that particular question, would it not be the scholars?

    Is there not in the vanity of the scholar – that his or her work is only intended to serve humane, decent, and positive ends – some of the solipsism of the ostrich? Perhaps this is what differentiates the scholar from the killer: that he or she can pretend that his or her work never harms another.
    Surely it is a similar line of reasoning that allows physicians to participte in torture, in that medicine’s goal is to be decent, humane, positive; it is far easier to ostracise those physicians and to say, “You are not one of us”, than it is to see how being a physician not only permits but also possibly includes such behaviour.

    One other question to ask, and I don’t ask it with a particular answer in mind: Jeff, can you say the same thing of the artist as you say of the scholar? And if so, what does that say of Marlowe and Burroughs, killers both; or Hemingway and Mailer, who so adored violence? Does the conduct of the artist – some of the most talented of whom are inarticulate, boorish drunkards – mean that the artist’s work cannot be thoughtful, thought-provoking? And if you can say the same thing of both, then can and should one apply the same humanitistic romanticism to the arts as one does to scholarship?

  44. 44  sw  February 18, 2007, 11:03 pm 

    I don’t quite know how I came up with “humanitistic”, although I quite like the neo-logism. I did mean “humanistic”.

  45. 45  Steven  February 18, 2007, 11:49 pm 

    I mentioned Philip Sydney not idly, as he was famously a soldier-poet-critic and much else besides. I suppose he might have been surprised to learn that scholarship and violence were ineluctably opposed, or that one could not have on one’s hands blood and ink both. Or perhaps the difference is that we would like to say his violence was not “wanton”, as Jeff calls al-Sadr’s? But isn’t al-Sadr’s violence quite carefully targeted, with specific political aims, and so not “wanton”?

    As for Sadr’s attaining the title of hojatoislam, so be it. But his conduct demonstrates that he is not a thoughtful man.

    Does it really? I take it, rather, to be evident that he is thoughtful – as is, evidently, Osama bin Laden; as was, evidently, the Unabomber; as is, evidently, Dick Cheney. That we don’t like their thoughts doesn’t mean the thoughts don’t exist. Indeed, to deny the existence of their thoughts may seem rather unhelpful. Know your enemy and all that.

    I wonder how far this denial of procedural legitimacy to those whose projects we oppose can be stretched? Was Werner von Braun, for example, not a “valid” physicist? Was Robert Oppenheimer, for that matter?

    Any idiot can still claim to be a literary critic.

    Not quite in the same way: I think these days the phrase strongly implies a university job; though I’m not sure I. A. Richards would entirely approve of his legacy.

    the study of English at the university level has only recently become rigorous.

    Thank heaven for progress. If only Sydney, Coleridge, Hazlitt and all the rest had had the benefit of a modern rigorous education in English literature, what might they have achieved?

    I find sw’s questions very pungent. The issue is plainly not black and white.

  46. 46  Andrew Kenneally  February 19, 2007, 12:29 am 

    The consequences of thought can very obviously be bloodhsed, especially when the ideas specifically call for bloodhshed. The idea that an intellectual’s actions can somehow be limited to a purely material sense is absurd whereby he is merely responsible for ink on a page as opposed to being a catalytic agent upon others’ consciousnesses.
    Though I’m wondering now does a scholar imply passivity in that he is merely someone who studies some subject or can he be active in the senese of propagating or creating an idea? Though I’m not too comfortable with the notion of creating an idea for reasons too complex to go into now. Life was so much simpler a day or two ago!

  47. 47  sw  February 19, 2007, 12:43 am 

    I’m glad you mention Oppenheimer and Werner Von Braun. How does the work relate to the man? What responsibility does the scholar have to how his or her work will be used?

    Andrew, the question need not be one of passivity. There was, a couple of years ago, a brief debate in a medical journal – the BMJ or Lancet, I think – about whether or not Nazi physicians should be cited in the medical literature. Scientific integrity demands that suppositions, assumptions, and foundations are duly noted with supporting evidence. When the supporting evidence is derived from scientific research conducted by men (and women) who were unethical in their practices, or profoundly unethical in later practices, should it be noted? Should their scholarship be afforded the respect that a scientific citation implies? The problem, of course, is not with the grotesque pseudo-experiments, but with experiments and scholarship that were conducted unethically but that nevertheless addressed scientific questions in a scientifically valid way.

    Here, then, we have a distinction between scholarship or science qua praxis and ethics. That is, research and inquiry can qualify as credible “science” and “scholarship”, though the authors are considered pariahs, and even when the immediate methods and goals are not what we could consider “humane” or “positive”. Ethics and inquiry cannot be conveniently dissociated, but nor can we say that inquiry and ethics are necessarily synonymous. To say that scholarship is virtue, that scholarship opposes violence and fascism (and totalitarianism, and racism, and bigotry, and notions of inequality, and mean-spiritedness, and ugliness?) seems rather hopeful. It is not an ugly thought – it is quite beautiful – but it is probably not true.

  48. 48  Steven  February 19, 2007, 12:52 am 

    Here, then, we have a distinction between scholarship or science qua praxis and ethics. That is, research and inquiry can qualify as credible “science” and “scholarship”, though the authors are considered pariahs, and even when the immediate methods and goals are not what we could consider “humane” or “positive”.

    Exactly, and well put. That is what I trying to get at with “this denial of procedural legitimacy to those whose projects we oppose”, but I was perhaps being too succinct.

  49. 49  mike  February 19, 2007, 2:42 am 

    this is all a bit over my head, so i will wade in with caution.

    it seems to me that when the media uses terms like radical to describe Muslim leaders who are not “our friends” as bush likes to say they do so out of ignorance. but is this surprising to anyone?

    the media, at least the American media, have been doing this from the beginning with Christianity. take for example how the Christian Right is described at times as Radical or Fundamentalist or Extreme. before 9/11 it was “radical” or “fundamentalist” or “militant” christians that were the terrorists in the news. another example is Jeff Sharlet writing for In a Harpers Article, who one would think would know what they are talking about given his years of reporting on religion, yet he demonstrates a real lack of thorough scholarship. but then maybe that isn’t it. maybe it is just that there is such a pull to sensationalize everything that nuanced reporting is lost.

    i don’t really know what the solution might be. i just turn off the TV when they start talking like this. i was going to say that i turn to NPR or Public Broadcasting for a more informed view, but even there one can find people spouting off about subjects for which they know nothing about.

  50. 50  dsquared  February 19, 2007, 10:02 am 

    SW: I think that the BMJ controversy goes even a little deeper than that – there was an ethical debate over the actual data (IIRC, most Nazi experiments were worthless crap but not all – the specific debate referred to experiments carried out by Mengele on human survival in cold water, which was meant to help paratroopers[1]). A fair few doctors believed that it was immoral to use this information today, given that its source was concentration camp murders. I think this point of view did not carry the day but it was certainly there.

    In utterly unrelated news (except potentially through the word “radical”), Steven, if I posted this clip on Crooked Timber

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FONt47Z0KZg

    and claimed that nobody but a dinosaurish rock snob would find it anything other than charming, do you think I would get away with it?

    [1] or “Paratroops”; I cannot recall which is correct but remember from a flamewar of old that they are surprisingly touchy about it.

  51. 51  sw  February 19, 2007, 1:40 pm 

    Dsquared – Yes, I think you’re right about the topic – cold water survival with paratroops! I’ll let the “deeper” thing slide: I don’t think I left anything other than the specific topic out.

    But thank you for two things: introducing me to “IIRC” – a very useful acronym, which will help me avoid many annoying dashes to wikipedia – and for the clip. Does it belong on this site? I would think so – it is a radical abuse of the hard rock community, unleashing assymmetric warfare on the enemies of civilisation in a blindingly obvious abuse of power.

  52. 52  Steven  February 19, 2007, 4:54 pm 

    “Charming”?

    I see that you are trying to get me to acknowledge that Céline Dion is a valid scholar of rock, which, if conceded, would stand as a devastating reductio ad absurdum of all my arguments in this thread. Very clever…

  53. 53  Andrew Kenneally  February 19, 2007, 8:43 pm 

    No, Dsquared, you would decidedly not get away with it. And my day was going so well.

  54. 54  abb1  February 19, 2007, 11:12 pm 

    In #5 upthread Steven posted the link to al-Sadr’s wikipedia article. Well, according to that article:

    As Muqtada al-Sadr lacks the religious education and degrees required by Shi‘a doctrines, he does not claim the title of mujtahid (the equivalent of a senior religious scholar) or the authority to issue fatwas (religious edicts), consequently he bases his religious authority on his lineage alone.

    So, if this is true, he is not really a scholar, not a hojatoleslam, not even a cleric, strictly speaking. Bummer. Or maybe this is just one of those wikipedia things.

  55. 55  Steven  February 20, 2007, 2:43 am 

    It’s a fascinating idea – if his title of hojatoleslam is purely honorific, based on his ancestry, it implies that scholarship itself can be directly inherited, like the divine right to rule of English monarchs. Knowledge is transmitted in the blood, presumably by something like the special mitochondria of Jedi: no need to waste time actually studying. So perhaps we could just call him a “Shia leader”?

  56. 56  Jeff Strabone  February 20, 2007, 6:53 am 

    Wow. It would take another fifty-five comments to do justice to all the questions raised. Let me start with the easiest first.

    Steve, I was vey careful to say ‘the study of English at the university level has only recently become rigorous’. Sydney et al. did not study English literature at university. The first treatment of English-language literature in university study was the new Scottish pedagogy of rhetoric pioneered by Adam Smith. English did not become a university discipline until the nineteenth century.

    As for Sadr not being a properly credentialed hojatoislam, I was surprised when Steve said he was. But again, credentialization is much more consensual and informal in Muslim societies.

    There were several comments responding to my opposition between killers and scholars. First the specific, then the general. Specifically, Sadr is a killer. He is not a professor or writer sitting at his desk writing ugly things about Jews, gays, whomever. He is a militia leader who explicitly directs his followers to kill Sunnis and gays & lesbians just for being Sunni or GLBT. He has no great works of mind or art to make his case complicated. He is a killer and nothing more.

    More generally, I routinely say that there is no necessary relationship between æsthetics and politics or morality. That is a statement about artists and the arts. In most cases, the person in question is both an artist and a political/moral goon. One thinks readily of Yeats and Eliot: great poets who expressed fascist views on the side. What of artists who were goons in their work, like D.W. Griffith? One can acknowledge the racism of Birth of a Nation and still discuss Griffith’s accomplishments in parallel editing.

    That is because achievements in art are matters of technique and craft, not content.

    A scholar can write artfully, but scholarship is chiefly a matter of content: scholars produce knowledge. A scholar whose chief contribution to the world is violence is no scholar. Why? Because violence is not knowledge. We all possess intellectual and rhetorical skills. I submit to you that a scholar, as I understand the term and my vocation as a scholar, is someone who uses his or her intellectual and rhetorical skills to achieve dialogue and understanding among people. Those who use their powers of cognition and eloquence primarily to direct others to kill gays and Sunnis cannot be called a scholar.

    Are there people who have killed and been scholars? Sure. There are plenty of scholars who have served their countries in wartime. That is not comparable to the lawless lynch-mob violence of Sadr’s militia and fascists the world over. But even if it were, even if someone reading this wants to collapse the differences between the two, I would say to that person that when one is killing or directing others to kill, one is not performing scholarship but in fact the opposite of scholarship. Killing one’s potential interlocutors is the death of dialogue and understanding.

    (Just for the record, my last remark was not a plea for pacificism. One’s ‘potential interlocutors’ may have the explicit intention of killing dialogue itself. I call that fascism.)

    Finally, returning to comments 40-42, I must strenuously disagree with Andrew. How could we not ‘mould language to fit our desires’? The entire motivation for language is desire. Every word we utter is a desire for understanding, community, and friendship. The point of Steve’s blog, as I understand it, is not to deny desire but to counter the machinations of those who use language for reasons other than the desire for understanding, community, and friendship.

  57. 57  abb1  February 20, 2007, 12:48 pm 

    How do you know that “he explicitly directs his followers to kill Sunnis and gays & lesbians just for being Sunni or GLBT”? Could you cite your source, please.

  58. 58  abb1  February 20, 2007, 1:06 pm 

    Incidentally:
    http://archives.cnn.com/2002/L.....xecutions/

    WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 Thursday that executions of mentally retarded criminals are “cruel and unusual punishment,” violating the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
    [...]
    Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia in dissenting.

    According to a report by The Associated Press, the three dissenting justices, the court’s most conservative members, telegraphed their views earlier this month, when they complained bitterly about reprieves the court majority had granted to two Texas inmates who claim they are retarded.

    Does this make Mr. Scalia a killer or is he still “an important jurist” and “a prolific scholar”?

  59. 59  Andrew Kenneally  February 20, 2007, 1:09 pm 

    Jeff, the moulding of language I was referring to is the choosing of the meaning of words to suit one’s ends. This being an exercise on obfuscation.

  60. 60  Andrew Kenneally  February 20, 2007, 1:09 pm 

    Oops, in obfuscation.

  61. 61  Steven  February 20, 2007, 2:15 pm 

    Yes, I know quite well that Sydney et al did not study a thing called “English” at university; my point was more to tease you about “rigorous”. By the way, when did this becoming-rigorous happen? Is university English now more rigorous than it was, say, in the 1930s?

    Specifically, Sadr is a killer. He is not a professor or writer sitting at his desk writing ugly things about Jews, gays, whomever. He is a militia leader who explicitly directs his followers to kill Sunnis and gays & lesbians just for being Sunni or GLBT. He has no great works of mind or art to make his case complicated. He is a killer and nothing more.

    Actually, al-Sadr opposed, for example, the US attack on Sunnis in Fallujah, and his movement has had some support among Sunnis. It is clear that he is not simply “nothing more” than a killer, if killer he is. He was, for example, a newspaper publisher before the US closed his newspaper down. (By your subsequent definition, let us note, that was a “fascist” act.) Moreover, he has been an active participant in political negotiations overseen by the US and in diplomacy with neighbouring countries. I believe your disgust is leading you into simplification. It would be as inapt to say that George W. Bush is “nothing more” than a killer. The Crisis Group Middle East Report [pdf] on al-Sadr of July 2006 is quite useful. It concludes:

    Muqtada [...] has become the authentic spokesman of a significant portion of traditionally disenfranchised Iraqis [...] It is important to ensure that Muqtada helps bring the Sadrists and their social base into the political process; for that, he will have to be treated as a legitimate, representative political actor.

    You go on, in more general terms:

    That is because achievements in art are matters of technique and craft, not content.

    I suppose you are being polemically schematic.

    A scholar can write artfully, but scholarship is chiefly a matter of content: scholars produce knowledge.

    They “produce” knowledge? (In the “knowledge economy”?) Or do they uncover it? I suppose there might be room for some distinctions between scholars in the sciences and in the humanities here.

    when one is killing or directing others to kill, one is not performing scholarship but in fact the opposite of scholarship

    You might look again at sw’s observations at #43 and #47. The Pentagon’s line is that, when physicians assist in torture, they are “not functioning as physicians”. That has the effect of keeping things nice and clear, as your arguments do, but it is not very convincing.

    The point of Steve’s blog, as I understand it, is not to deny desire but to counter the machinations of those who use language for reasons other than the desire for understanding, community, and friendship.

    No, not only their machinations. Cf Chapter 2 of Unspeak, on the word “community”.

  62. 62  Andrew Kenneally  February 20, 2007, 2:41 pm 

    “That is because achievements in art are matters of technique and craft, not content.”

    This extremely debatable. Art lives in one’s respones to it, and the idea that art is simply a matter of technique and craft is to describe any feat of engineering such as a car as a work of art. The point of technique is the enabling of wahtever it is the artist has in him to communicate. I’m sure one could also find any number of technically masterful car ads, which somehow don’t do much in terms of competing with Tarkovsky as great art. What do you think it is they are missing that this is so? It is the content, or the making tangible their humanity, that sets the greats apart. Otherwise we’re left claiming Van Gogh was an ordinary artist of dubious technical ability, while endless dull session musicians were greater than John Lennon.

  63. 63  Richard  February 20, 2007, 3:35 pm 

    Uh oh – please, please let’s not slide off into a discussion of the definition of art: it’s an interesting enough question in its own right, but I’d say it’s a side point for this topic, which, as I understand it, now consists of (1)”is Muqtada al-Sadr a scholar?” and by extension (2)”are scholarship and violence incompatible?”

    For myself, I don’t know enough about the man (or maybe even the category) to answer (1) definitively. I’m undecided on (2), but it doesn’t seem like a simple one-or-the-other exclusion to me.

  64. 64  Andrew Kenneally  February 20, 2007, 4:43 pm 

    True, Richard, sometimes it’s hard to let things go uinchallenged, however. I am utterly without relevant knowledge regarding your first question but as for your second there isn’t much to debate really. Didn’t one of Europe’s most influential scholars, Martin Luther, extol the German princes to put down the peasants Revolt with the utmost brutality? Could the Catholic Church hierarchy then claim this proved Luther was no scholar?

  65. 65  dave  February 20, 2007, 6:06 pm 

    Interestingly, one reason why al-Qtub felt Christianity to be polytheistic was that it acknowledged (he thought) priests as a privileged class who controlled access to divine law, rather than allowing lay individuals unmediated access to the law. Differences notwithstanding, this seems similar at some level to radical Protestant anti-clericism (which, in the late-C18th British context, could run together with political radicalism: this was in fact the context for the emergence of ‘radical reform’ as advocated by people like John Jebb).

  66. 66  Steven  February 20, 2007, 8:00 pm 

    Dave! That is interesting: thank you for the scholarly contribution. Might I be pedantic and ask what is the difference between radical Protestant anti-clericism and normal Protestant anti-clericism? (I’m sincerely asking: there might well be a good answer.)

  67. 67  dave  February 21, 2007, 12:56 am 

    Not sure I can provide a good answer. The demand for ‘radical reform of the representation’ developed quite rapidly in the 1780s, and (after looking at it) I think a medical sense of ‘radical’ was being redeployed here. There was a familiar contrast between medical intervention aiming at ‘radical cure’ and that aiming at merely ‘palliative cure’. As early as 1735, Bolingbroke – though his use of ‘radical’ here was not immediately picked up – called for universal suffrage as a ‘remedy’ to achieve the ‘radical cure of the evil that threatens our constitution … all others are merely palliative’. Faced with ‘corruption’ of the body politic, ‘radical reformers’ were those who called for really extensive ‘reform/reformation of the representation’ (i.e. franchise extension) as a ‘radical cure’. Subsequently (in the early C19th) the label ‘radical reformers’ became shortened to ‘radical’, and ‘Radicals’ shaped up in Parliament against Whigs and Tories. But by that time the French Revolution had happened, where Jacobins were associated with both efforts at direct democracy and the Terror: opponents of ‘radical reform’ from the 1790s had associated it with violence. More than you wanted, I’m sure…
    But while on the topic of of the body politic, did you know that ‘Cheney syndrome’ is a rather horrible (though thankfully rare) condition involving skeletal demineralization?

  68. 68  Steven  February 21, 2007, 1:11 am 

    Ah, that’s excellent, and pleasingly ties a lot of this thread’s arguments together: the medical sense of “radical cure”. Did it already, I wonder, have the additional sense of “a perilous strategy” as well as “getting to the root of the problem”? As I cite Coriolanus (in Unspeak):

    To jump a body with a dangerous physic / That’s sure of death without it

    (The excuse for which being that the “body politic” figure got a workout in Iraq talk recently too.)

  69. 69  Jeff Strabone  February 22, 2007, 9:17 am 

    At comment 57, Abb1 asked me for a source for Sadr’s anti-gay violence. I was planning to write about this at my own blog after the Oscars, but the question got me looking for sources earlier than planned. Here is what I have tracked down so far:

    1. Doug Ireland’s March 2006 article, ‘Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays
    This article refers to Sistani’s decree to kill gays.

    2. If you want a more traditional source, see the Independent for May 5, 2006:
    ‘Grand Ayatollah Sistani recently issued a fatwa on his website calling for the execution of gays in the “worst, most severe way.”‘

    3. Doug Ireland subsequently reported on February 1, 2007 that
    ‘Death squads of the Mahdi Army, the armed militia under the control of fundamentalist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have also carried out assassinations of gays.’

    4. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting reported in October 2006:
    ‘The trials, presided over by young inexperienced clerics, are held in Husseiniyas (Shia mosques), offices of the Sadr movement or, particularly in Shu’la and Sadr City, in ordinary halls. Gays and rapists face anything from 40 lashes to the death penalty.’

    I have yet to track down a statement by Sadr himself directing his followers to kill same-sex folks, but I hope to find it. In the meanwhile, I have e-mailed Sistani’s website asking for a copy of his kill-gays decree.

  70. 70  abb1  February 22, 2007, 11:31 am 

    I could be wrong, but I suspect that Sistani’s statement (http://www.advocate.com/news_detail_ektid28049.asp) is not equal to the Nazi-style “killing gays for being gays”, but rather he advocates death penalty for the ‘crime’ of committing homosexual acts, which is different. Homosexual acts are against the law in many countries, including, I understand, several US states. This is all very barbaric, of course, but doesn’t seem to amount to killing (or incarcerating, in the case of US states) people for what they are.

  71. 71  dsquared  February 22, 2007, 12:27 pm 

    just noticed that “radical cleric” has the same scansion as “terrorist suspect” and thus can be sung to the tune of “Eleanor Rigby”, as suggested in Unspeak.

  72. 72  Steven  February 22, 2007, 2:24 pm 

    I have yet to track down a statement by Sadr himself directing his followers to kill same-sex folks, but I hope to find it.

    You hope to find it?
    If you read the Crisis Group Middle East Report on Sadr to which I directed you above, you will find that Sadr does not have reliable command authority over everything done in his name; and by contrast, he has on numerous occasions in the last few years denounced violent acts by his followers. Of course it’s very posible that those denunciations are disingenuous; and it might still be that he orders the deaths of gays, but until you can provide some evidence to that effect, citing statements by Sistani won’t cut it.

    just noticed that “radical cleric” has the same scansion as “terrorist suspect” and thus can be sung to the tune of “Eleanor Rigby”, as suggested in Unspeak.

    An excellent point!

  73. 73  sw  February 22, 2007, 10:47 pm 

    abb1 – I’m afraid that your argument is rather worrying. State laws against sodomy in the United States, though used to harrass homosexuals, resulted in repercussions that are hardly the same as 40 lashes, much less murder. People may all call something a “crime” but have very different senses of what punishments would be entailed and the extent to which the “crime” is nefarious (just as you might distinguish between two “crimes”, like shoplifting and murder). The Supreme Court, by the way, struck down all States’ sodomy laws rather recently; that it came up at all was suprising, given how infrequently such “crimes” were prosecuted. Many, myself included, were nevertheless delighted by the decision. It is unclear how the distinction between the “act” and the “person” really matters, although I do admit that it raises interesting intellectual and linguistic questions: in truth, the person is punished for the act.

  74. 74  Jeff Strabone  February 22, 2007, 10:56 pm 

    The U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), overturned the few remaining state laws prohibiting anal sex between adults. That overturning included the laws prohibiting opposite-sex couples from performing anal sex.

  75. 75  Steven  February 23, 2007, 2:35 am 

    It is unclear how the distinction between the “act” and the “person” really matters, although I do admit that it raises interesting intellectual and linguistic questions: in truth, the person is punished for the act.

    A good point. “Love the sinner, hate the sin”? Well, you can’t punish a sin, you have to punish the sinner. And it’s an unfortunate truth that those readiest to quote whichever scripture they have to hand are often among those readiest to hate the sinner from the get-go. But you’re okay, it seems, if you pass a battery of tests to prove that you are “completely heterosexual”.

  76. 76  Richard  February 23, 2007, 3:48 am 

    wow.

    What about this far from masterly bit of unspeak (or possibly duckspeak) from the cnn article:
    It was the acting-out situations where things took place.

    a sort of gay/immoral heterotopia?

    He’s been urged to move away from Colorado Springs “to heal.” Might I suggest San Francisco?

  77. 77  abb1  February 23, 2007, 5:09 pm 

    It is unclear how the distinction between the “act” and the “person” really matters? C’mon. You don’t have to be a lawyer to see how it matters.

  78. 78  sw  February 24, 2007, 12:22 am 

    Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to explain further, abb1.

  79. 79  abb1  February 24, 2007, 10:14 am 

    To explain what, Sw? Either people are punished for what they are, for being homosexual – or they aren’t.

    Are you saying you don’t see the difference between being sexually attracted to people of the same gender and engaging in same-gender sexual acts?

    How about being attracted to your neighbor’s wife and actually having sex with her – do you see any difference here?



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