Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Differentiating Between Islam and the Code of the West

There has been much discussion about the possibility of incorporating Sharia law into the jurisprudence of the United States, much as some Sharia law has been introduced to English jurisprudence by unthinking multiculturalists who believe that this would be the politically correct and oh, so tolerant thing to do.

Such discussion has also been motivated by a few legal decisions made by judges in the United States that have recognized Islamic law as being binding upon Muslim individuals acting within the United States, even when such actions violate American state and/or federal laws. One of the most notorious of these is the decision of a New Jersey judge to acquit a man who raped his wife because his Muslim religion allows such behavior, even though the New Jersey criminal code forbids it. We can all be thankful that such an idiotic decision--one that does not take into account the individual rights that are basis of American criminal and civil law--was overturned by a higher court. Freedom to practice one's religion does not come with the license to violate the rights of another person.

In most of the discussions I have seen, the majority of participants tend to oppose the recognition of Sharia law--or for that matter, any foreign jurisprudence--by American courts. However, many of the arguments are based in a rivalry of religious laws--the "Judeo-Christian" code as opposed to the Islamic code. Although this argument is correct in that there is a large difference between the two, it is limited. A look at the different ideas about law that have formed these two very different legal traditions shows why we in the West ought to be very wary of tolerating Sharia within our legal tradition. What follows is an expanded version of a a comment I made to one of the internet discussions about this issue.

Although American jurisprudence owes much to the Jewish and Christian concept of the rule of law, and is based on the development of this concept through Western religious thought, it is in its own self, different than religious law, and its jurisdiction supersedes the rules and dogmas of any specific sect or religion. Specifically, American law is based on the concept of individual rights that are understood to be bequeathed to each person by his or her Creator--Nature's God, as Jefferson put it--and are therefore fundamental to the being of the individual as an individual. As such, our legal tradition transcends the laws of any religion, and applies to all individuals. It is profoundly secular.

Although it is often called a "Western Religion" because it is derived in part from Judaism and Christianity, Islam did not partake in the unique melding of Greek ideas with the Mosaic ethical and legal tradition that came through Christianity to define the Western intellectual tradition. Whereas Christianity has, from its inception, differentiated between what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar, carving out for Christian Europeans a secular realm, the Islamic Sharia law makes no such differentiation. Islam claims all aspects of life. It would be very difficult indeed for Islam as it is presently understood and practiced to allow for a separation of religious and state institutions.

Although Christianity had its internecine wars over doctrine--and the concomitant attempts to apply them by force--they were resolved relatively early with the division between the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. Later wars between the Christian church and state were a matter of arguments that turned violent about where exactly the division is between what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar. Specifically, these struggles were about how the material benefits that come with power would be divided between the church and the state. As Western religious thought developed in Europe, the Reformation introduced ideas that placed more value on the ordinary individual and his choices and actions than Christianity had previously, and this created an evolution that from the scholastic idea of natural law to the enlightenment ideal of individual rights. (For a more thorough discussion of this evolution see Libertarian Ethics: Natural Law and Natural Rights). The consistent application of the ideal that each individual has rights by his or her very nature as a human being eventually required that one's religious expression becomes a matter of individual conscience and choice, and that it cannot be coerced by the state. The fullest expression of the idea of natural rights thus far has been through the American concept of republican government, which ideally limits government and its enumerated duties to the protection of the unenumerated rights of individuals. That this ideal has not been reached does not detract from the power and nobility of the idea and the admirable attempt to express it through American jurisprudence.

Because Islam did not participate in the fusion of Greek and Jewish/Christian ideas, it is not really Western in character. Within Islam, there is no differentiation between what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar, and thus there is no possibility of a separation between religious and secular institutions. The concept does not exist. At the very beginning of Islam Online, this is boldly stated:

First of all, it is to be noted that Islam, being Allah’s final message to humanity, is a comprehensive system dealing with all spheres of life; it is a state and a religion, or government and a nation; it is a morality and power, or mercy and justice; it is a culture and a law or knowledge and jurisprudence; it is material and wealth, or gain and prosperity; it is Jihad and a call, or army and a cause and finally, it is true belief and worship.

Therefore, there is no way that Islam can tolerate a law that supersedes its jurisdiction, as American secular jurisprudence does over the specific religious laws and doctrines of all who live in the United States and its territories. Furthermore, Islam does not recognize the sanctity of the individual, the rule of reason in matters of individual conscience, nor individual rights. Under Sharia, there is no equality before the law, and some are not even recognized as persons with their own rights (women and non-believers, for example).

It is always possible that Islam could be reformed from within, in the same way that Christianity was reformed. But Christianity had that one statement in its scriptures that allowed such reformation. That is the statement about the differentiation between the realm of the Christian God and that of Caesar. The scripture of Islam does not make any such statement, and therefore such a reformation would require an intellectual leap based not on its own tradition, but solely upon the example of the West. Currently, few Muslims seem willing or able to create such a reformation. Therefore we should be very wary of any claim that Islam is a religion of peace rather than a religion of the sword. In Islamic understanding, only those who submit to Allah are accorded membership in the world of peace, and all others live within the world of strife, to be conquered by the sword.

In the West, we have been slow to realize these crucial differences in culture and the development of ideas. This is partly due to a lack of education in and understanding of our own history and heritage. But it is also due to the error of multiculturalism, the idea that all cultures are equal in every respect, so that it is wrong to make judgments about them and have preferences among them. Islam has no such moral relativism, and Muslims eager to bring the West under the dominion of the Crescent have no compunction about doing so by force through the Jihad, the Holy War.

We of the West have every right and reason to defend our culture, and our desire to live by its ideas and values. We have every right to demand that those who choose to live among us abide by our laws. We need not impose our laws on others living elsewhere, but should they attempt to impose theirs upon us by force, we need to be ready to repel them. Our is a unique heritage, one that has been built over centuries of thought and tears. It is a culture that has as its basis and ideal the hard-won idea that individual human beings have unalienable rights derived from nature and nature's God, and that no prophet or priest, king or state can remove them from us. That is an idea well worth defending with our very lives. It is the basis of human freedom.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cult of Death: Islamist Thanatophilia

"We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are most
vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we will take from
them. We will win because they love life and we love death."
--Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah

During the Bronze Age, human societies engaged in the cult of death. Evidence of this can be seen in the Vale of Hinnon (Ge-hinnon, the original vision of hell) near Jerusalem where archaeologists have uncovered jars and jars of the bones and ashes of children sacrificed to the idol Molach. The children were thrown alive into the fires within the mouth of a graven image of the idol in order to appease the god. Similar evidence has been found that is associated with civilizations practicing human sacrifice on a large scale throughout the world. The cult of death seems to be associated with a level of tool technology and the organization of society that is consistent with the Bronze Age. Thus, the Aztec rulers were engaged in human sacrifice at the time of first contact with the Spanish explorers, which was well into historical times for European civilization.

In these cults of death, the sacrifice of individuals was justified for the good of the people, their lands and crops, and carried out by a religious hierarchy that was wedded in some way to the political rulers, whether by actual intermarriage or by a fusing of the ruling family with godhood. The religions tended to be nature religions in which gods were thought to be in control of the various functions of nature (the sun, moon, rain and storms, crops, etc.) and were considered to be capricious and so needed to be placated by the spilling of human blood.

The Western Religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all stem from the Israelite Religion, which also began as a nature religion that required human sacrifice. It is the evolution of this religion through monolatry (the worship of one god while acknowledging the existence of others) to a monotheism that developed the replacement of human sacrifices with animal sacrifices, and then with prayer and study, as an understanding of the unique nature and value of individual human life seemed to go together with the worship of a unique and individual deity. This development has resulted only recently in the value modern Westerners place on the individual human being as an individual with rights.

Although Islam is categorized by scholars as one of the Western Religions (because it, too, developed out of the ancient Israelite Religion), it does not share the same Western values with Christianity and Judaism. A little more than a century after the death of Islam's founder Mohammed, it got stuck or turned away (the term is in the eye of the beholder), from such a development, maintaining instead a culture that placed value not on the individual and his choices, but upon the society as a collective, its values dictated by its ruler-priests. The reasons given for this turning away are varied according to historians and scholars of religion, and include the nature of Islam's parent society, and internal and external conflicts during its spread. Islam had access to much of the Western Classical Canon at a time when Europe did not, and in fact transmitted that heritage back into European culture while, at the same time, turning away from it.

In Islam, as it was among the Bronze age Israelites-to-be, the rules do no apply equally to all, but are administered through certain individuals according tribe and family. The tribal and familial heads have standing and everyone else is subsumed in those identities. As the anthropologist Mary Douglas terms it, the society is "strong group", which means that human worth is judged through group identification, rather than through individual character. This means that some lives are worth more than others, and that those whose lives are worth less than others may be sacrificed, sometimes even capriciously, with little remorse on the part of the killers for the lives taken. This means that it can be perceived as an honor to allow others to use one's life and death for their own purposes, so long as those purposes are referenced to the needs of the group. This is how Islamists can claim that they represent "the religion of peace" while condoning barbaric practices such as the stoning of women, or suicide bombings, or the ritual sacrifice of children. Their judgment of what is peace is made according to the impact on the group, and in these cases, only the group they value, and not the impact on the individuals who have been sacrificed to the perceived needs of that group. (This is a pattern shared with other collectivist cultures and sub-cultures whether they are religious or not).

A week ago Shabbat, the nature of the Islamist Death Cult was on display again as two terrorists invaded the home of an Israeli family, murdering the father, his three-month old baby daughter, and two sons while they slept. The mother was also murdered as she tried to fight them. The children were murdered in a manner consistent with the ancient cults of human sacrifices, the perfect knife slashed their throats in one stroke. The attack was a terrorist attack by definition, since these people were killed in an attempt to terrify others in the name of the political/religious goals of the Islamists. But even more ominous, the ritual nature of the sacrifice demonstrates the allegiance of the killers to the ancient and barbaric death cult.

There are those who will put themselves through all kinds of mental gymnastics in order to either justify the actions of these terrorists or to portray them as confused men who did not act on their own volition, but were used by unnamed "third parties". One such apologist commenting on my Facebook account even tried to argue that "nobody wants to harm others."
This is at its sorry best, wishful thinking, and at its worst, an injustice to the innocent victims of murder plain and simple.

Those who justify murder and child sacrifice often do so in order to maintain their fantasy that all ideas and cultures are equally good, and that one cannot be preferred over another. This is the concept of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism was the justification that hid behind the robes of the judge in New Jersey who thought it was just fine for a Muslim man to rape his wife in America because our laws should not override the husband's religious beliefs. Although this decision was overturned by a higher court, a sign that neither logic or righteousness are totally absent from American jurisprudence, most commentators still thought of this as a case of 'religious freedom' gone too far. Almost no one was able to articulate the principle that makes the original decision wrong. (Hint: It's Individual Rights).

It is clear that the Islamists' death cult is an example of Thanatophilia--a love of death over life--they have said so, and very clearly. If the Nasrallah quote above is not enough, here is one from the Albanian Islamist leader, Ali Benhadjj, who said:

"Faith is propagated by counting up deaths every day; by adding up massacres and charnel-houses." (Cited in Anna Griefman's Death Orders: The Vanguard of Modern Terrorism in Communist Russia).

What may not be so clear is that those who would make themselves apologists for such murders are also bowing down at the shrine of the death cult, and are worshiping at the idol of death, destroyer of worlds. To make moral equivalence between a three-month old baby in Itamar and her murderer, or between a four year old child running from the terrorists' guns in Beslan and his killers, is an exercise in the destruction of the difference between good and evil, and between evil and innocence. It is itself an indication about how far from Western values some westerners have strayed, and how willing they are to bow to the death-dealers, and have become themselves worshipers of death, the real haters of the human race.

Despite the peddlers of moral equivalence and multiculturalism, there are large differences between murder of the innocent, and the defense of one's own life and its value; there are large differences between a culture that values death over life, and one that values life over death, and values will ultimately determine how we make the judgment between them. While members of Hamas and Hezbollah were passing out candy and urging Islamists to celebrate the sacrifice of innocent children to the cult of death, their grandfather, speaking at their funeral was reminding his people of the commandment at the heart of the cult of life:

See, I place before you this day life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, that you and your children may live. (My translation).

In accordance with this commandment, with the value placed on life, indiscriminate murder is forbidden. And so the grandfather and rabbi pleaded for justice through law and sound judgment, and pleaded against indiscriminate revenge.

There can be no justice at all in a society that bows down to the idols of death and destruction on principle. There, one will always witness the "religion of peace" unselfconsciously stoning women, sending young men off to death and murder by suicide attack, and ritually murdering innocent children. A society that worships at the altar of death is likely to see the massive deaths of themselves and their own innocent children. This is more than terrorism for political purposes, it is the love of death for its own sake. It is the cult of death.

Those who love life will act on that value. They will defend the innocent and will not traffic in the moral equivalency between the murderer and the murdered, and they will not allow their own judgment to be clouded by moral relativism, but will stand up for the rights of the innocent, and justice for their undeserved murders.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Because We're Here: The Spiritualist, the Global Warming Truther and Least Astonishment

"We come into the world and take our chances.
Fate is just the weight of circumstances.
That's the way that Lady Luck dances,
Roll the bones. Roll the bones.
Why are we here? Because we're here,
Roll the bones, roll the bones.
Why does it happen? Because it happens,
Roll the bones, roll the bones . . ."
--Peart and Rush, Roll the Bones

This morning, opening my Facebook and E-mail accounts for the first time in a week, I saw two posts whose headlines posited a reason for the earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan on Friday, March 11.

The first came to me through Facebook, and was a You-Tube video of a spiritualist warning people that a change in the earth's axis would cause "mega-quakes" and that people ought to prepare by moving away from all major faults. In this video the perpetrator of pseudo-science very skillfully mixed a small snippet of fact gotten backwards--earthquakes can change the earth's axis of mass to a very small degree-- with quite a few scientific sounding terms in order to develop a plausible-sounding prediction that was hailed by the person posting it as proof that because the earthquake occurred after the "prediction" was made, then the explanation given by the spiritualist must be correct and altogether right. It is the end of the world as we know it.

The second came to me through an e-mail link to a website blog called Grist. The title of the article is: How is Climate Change Connected to Tsunamis? The gist of the grist article claim is that climate change causes ice to melt, which causes isostatic rebound of the earth's surface, which can cause earthquakes, and thus that we might expect to see more tsunamis due to global climate change. This is also pseudo-science in broad strokes. And like the first, it is using speculation about a small fact--the disappearance of continental glaciers does create a measurable isostatic rebound that goes on for quite some time (in a geological time frame)--to posit a cause for a natural disaster. When all you have is a hammer, so the saying goes, everything becomes a nail.

Both explanations are being used to promote the author's respective agendas, and neither has much to do with science. And both are also a form of whistling in the dark. I have said before that human beings tend to operate by the Principle of Least Astonishment. That is, we expect that all of the events, accidents and chance meetings of history with natural processes that brought us to the moment of our advent upon the earth are now finished, and that now that we are here we can reasonably expect the conditions of the earth itself to remain unchanged and unchanging because it is now, as it was and ever will be, the world as we expect it to be, without end, forever.

Human beings, fundamentally conservative creatures that we are, generally do not like astonishment. We survive great shifts in human and earth history by stubbornly insisting that the earth should not move beneath our feet, and that the waters should not transgress the shoreline by more than the routine workings of the tide. The Principle of Least Astonishment is a psychological defense that allows the vast majority of us to survive our encounters with Deep Time long enough to get about the business of passing on our genes and supporting our offspring in a relatively normal fashion. A few of us recognize that we are riders on the storm, and fewer still want to confront nature. They are the ones who go forth chasing tornadoes, running Class V rapids, and flying into hurricanes with shit-eating grins on their faces, because they feel truly alive when confronting the power of nature. It takes all kinds . . .

And generally, when faced with the enormity of a natural disaster, there are those who want to establish a cause and assign blame. This is another psychological defense. It is a way of throwing salt over the shoulder and spitting into the fire in order to make sure that such a disaster could "never happen to me." This masks the fear that it could by assigning blame to the victims as a class, and positing a solution that relies on the virtue of a belief that is supposed to protect one from the same fate.

The spiritualist and the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) truther who wrote the items I found today have both convinced themselves that they know the cause of the earthquake and the tsunami, and they both have assigned the blame to human activity. The spiritualist believes that our spiritual darkness has created bad energy that has knocked the earth from its rotational axis--never mind that it was the earthquake that changed the figure axis of the earth by a mere 1.8 micro-second--and that we can expect terrible punishment for our sins in the form of terrible earthquakes to come. The AGW truther believes that our environmental sins in the form of large carbon footprints are to blame. Both believe with an absolute and religious fervor that if only humanity could become enlightened (the spiritualist) or reduce its carbon footprint (the AGW truther) by implementing a specific grand plan to attain perfection, then such disasters could be averted and the innocence of Eden restored upon the earth.

As a rather ordinary scientist, I have no program that can match such grand schemes and great plans. I have only the rather bare and plain assurance that natural disasters are likely to keep occurring at rather regular intervals of Deep Time that are unpredictable in the course of Human Time. We know that earthquakes will take place on active faults, and that when the fault typology is such that energy can build for long periods of time, those earthquakes will be spectacular. And that they will occur entirely without human causation or consent. The human suffering due to these disasters can be mitigated by our understanding of the natural processes involved, and by application of our technology and resources to warn people out of the way of an impending disaster and to protect them as best we can when that warning is insufficient.

We can mitigate and manage natural disasters. We can prepare and plan to ride the storms and survive, faces to the welcoming sunshine that follows. But we cannot put an end to them. They are as much a part of the nature of our dynamic planet as is our own existence. And there is always the chance that we, as individuals, will roll an unlucky sequence of circumstances. In that case, nothing we could have foreseen, nothing we could have done will change the facts. Any person is vulnerable to the accidents and exigencies of nature. That is the consequence of being alive.

In the novel Hawaii, one of the main characters, Dr. Whipple, is confronted with the death of one of the Hawaiian royalty, the Ali Nui, whose bones must be hidden according to custom or their will come a terrible consequence, the whistling wind. The bones are hidden, but the whistling wind came anyway, sinking the ships in the harbor at Lanai. The Hawaiians fall of their faces, sure that the spirits of the Ali Nui sent the wind. A puritanical missionary raises his arms in an aweful curse, saying that the Christian God had sunk the ships as punishment for the immorality of the sailors, drunkards and fornicators, all. But Dr. Whipple says quietly: I don't think the Ali Nui sent the wind, and I don't think that God sank the ships."

I don't think the spirits caused the earthquake, and I don't think global warming caused the tsunami. And making major changes to our ways in order to propitiate either the spirits or the climate will not prevent future natural disasters. Further, such actions taken rashly and out of a sense of misplaced blame and guilt could very well cause all too predictable harm to many millions of people.

The Spiritualist and the AGW Truther are both speaking and acting out of a kind of faith that refuses to recognize the uncertainty inherent in the nature of reality. Their tendency to resort to the reasons they have endlessly rehearsed is a defense against the realization that they, too, are vulnerable to that uncertainty. This is the Principle of Least Astonishment in action. It is understandable but it is an evasion nonetheless.

But much worse than that, both believe at some level in the myth that human beings are not a part of nature, but are instead the evil outside cause of the destruction of nature. This is a kind of thanatosis, a death wish, projected upon all of humanity, which in such a formulation is not quite real to them because they are thinking of humanity as a vast collective rather than a collection of individuals. It is a faith every bit as dangerous as that of the Inquisition or the Supreme Soviet. In the name of humanity, then, they would condemn many individuals to surely suffer due to their solution to the messiness of life on a dynamic planet.

Faith as cold as ice; Why are little ones born only to suffer,
for the want of immunity or a bowl of rice?
Who would place that price
On the heads of the innocent children,
if there's some immortal power to control the dice?
We come into the world and take our chances.
Fate is just the weight of circumstances . . .
Roll the bones. . .

I would rather brave the weight of circumstances, and take my chances on natural disasters, knowing that I can mitigate and plan for them, but not control them--knowing that I can die, that I will die from living eventually; I would rather that than I would place my fate in the hands of those whose fear leads them to thanatosis and the knowing destruction of human lives in the name of "humanity." I refuse to worship at the altar of a faith that lays the price of uncertainty on the heads of the innocent. That is idolatry pure and simple.

So bring on TOTO, the paddle and the airplane. It's time to put a shit-eating grin on my face and experience Most Astonishment at the amazing power and beauty of what is. And maybe learn something new about Creation. Because I'm here . . .

Jack -- relax.
Get busy with the facts.
No zodiacs or almanacs,
No maniacs in polyester slacks.
Just the facts.
Gonna kick some gluteus max.
Its a parallax -- you dig?
You move around.
The small gets big. It's a rig.
Its action -- reaction --
Random interaction.
So who's afraid
Of a little abstraction?
Cant get no satisfaction
From the facts?
You better run, homeboy --
A fact's a fact
From Nome to Rome, boy.

Whats the deal? Spin the wheel.

If the dice are hot: Take a shot.
Play your cards. Show us what you got.
What you're holdin'.
If the cards are cold,
Don't go foldin'.
Lady luck is golden;
She favors the bold. It's cold.
Stop throwing stones --
The night has a thousand saxophones.
So get out there and rock.
Roll the bones.
Get busy!

--Peart, Rush: Roll the Bones Rap

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Baby Siete


While we were completing the move of our furniture down to Ragamuffin Ranch, admidst the multiple trips back and forth, Lucy the Longhorn kicked her heifer off and disappeared. On Wednesday evening the 16th, I drove down to the ranch, and on Thursday morning as I prepared to drive the truck back up with the Engineering Geek, I noticed that Lucy was not with the herd. She had been looking wide across the hips for the past weeks, and I suspected that she was off calving. The CIT called Thursday night to tell us that he had seen Lucy come to the stock tank to drink and then hurry off again. He thought she was hiding a calf. Later he called to tell us he saw her with the calf near the dirt tank, but Lucy was in no mood to let him get close--she had a little male. For the first week or so, we saw little of Lucy and less of the calf, but lately he has been gamboling along with herd, trying to graze, playing, and checking out this new world of Ragamuffin Ranch. We call him Siete, because after Chuckwagon went from steer to meat, we had six cattle, making Siete the 7th again.

Not at all camera shy, Siete looks toward me from across the fence, trying to puzzle out what this strange person is doing. Mamma Lucy was less pleased, and I used the telephoto lens.

During the mid-afternoon the cattle settle in to chew their cuds after grazing all morning and getting a drink at the nearby stock tank. Siete rests too, here under the watchful eye of his sister, the heifer Blanche (not pictured). Blanche got up and faced me, her half-Brahma features looking remarkably fierce and she stared me and the camera down.

Here, Siete is checking out something of interest to a little boy calf under the juniper, while his mama grazes on the ditch bank. Occasionally he does escape his mother's attention . . .

. . . Siete hurries to near where she is, and when she is close enough, he allows himself to be distracted by his world again.

He's the only baby now, but very soon he will be joined a few others. Freckles is positively lumbering, so great with calf is she, and LB will be calving soon after her.

Spring is coming to Ragamuffin Ranch and so are the baby calves.